The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jamie O'Connell Headshot

No Excuse for Poor Communication - Students Get Through Results Day Together

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

In what was the most 'social' results day yet, students took to the web to share their anxiety, hopes and dreams on Twitter and The Student Room forums. As 'results day' trended young people across the country were united by a common enemy - fear of failure.

Students reached out to other students for empathy but also for much needed information and reassurance.

Parents and school advisors have found it tough to keep pace with the changes within higher education over the past few years. Firstly the poorly communicated rise in tuition fees and accompanying loan structure. Then just prior to results day the news that universities would be able to recruit unlimited students above the AAB threshold, subject only to their own capacity.

Both of these have major implications for students, the first should be fully understood before anyone commits themselves to university and subsequent debt. The second was important to know because it gave students this year the opportunity to 'trade up' through a process called adjustment to a university and course perhaps more suited to their needs.

Responsibility for communicating these changes sits with David Willets' department of business innovation and skills. Prior to results day we teamed up with London South Bank University to research sixth formers and found that only 5% were aware of the change to capping.

On results day itself the UCAS system used by universities and colleges to process applicants experienced technical problems that meant those institutes weren't able to process decisions for over three hours.

This meant that thousands of students were left in limbo unable to progress with their applications during the afternoon and overnight through into Friday.

Technical issues on this scale on such an important day shouldn't happen but it's easy to see why they do with out of date technology and no money in the public sector to update it. What isn't excusable is for students, who may have learnt they didn't get the grades for their first choice university, to have the additional emotional strain of being left in the dark not being told what's going on.

As an analogy for non students... Imagine if you'd worked hard for two years to afford a once in a lifetime holiday. With excitement for what is to come you join the queue for security checks at the airport. You wait, you keep waiting, your flight should be boarding now but you are still in the security queue.

You'd be thinking that other people will be getting on the plane and that you're going to be left behind. Then the lights go out in the airport and all the staff go home. You go to sleep that night unsure as to whether you'll get a flight the next day to where you want to go. It's not until you wake up the next day and go back to the security queue that you discover its moving slowly forward. You will get to sit on a sunny beach after all!

Airports are actually really good at letting you know of delays and will even send down a friendly person down to talk to inconvenienced passengers and give out some food vouchers. This didn't happen on results day when students faced delays with their journey. UCAS didn't communicate that there was a problem; there was no reassurance or friendly face.

Going to university is a daunting prospect, moving out of home probably for the first time accumulating a great deal of debt in order to attend. With the higher education sector beginning to talk about students as 'customers' with a focus on service provision the transition into university should be as slick as the high quality experience when you get there. If it isn't it reflects badly on the university as well as UCAS. University staff were massively inconvenienced on results day and naturally furious by their inability to process applications.

Dominic Shellard, the De Montfort University vice-chancellor, said the institution had received "hundreds and hundreds" of queries from "very distressed" students.

"It is utterly infuriating that having spent many months planning...in terms of bringing admissions in line with student numbers controls, we are flying blind at the moment," Professor Shellard said.

When the dust settles there will be an exercise to understand how this can be avoided next year, universities will be putting pressure on UCAS to whom they pay significant handling fees for processing their students and students through The Student Room will demand a more transparent system.

What you study at university and where have life changing implications. It dictates how you spend three or more years, who you meet and make lifelong friendships with, it opens and closes future opportunities and dictates how favorably employers will look upon you.

To not keep people making these important decision fully informed is doing them an injustice and can hinder them making the right choices.

HE Minister David Willets spoke on television from the UCAS headquarters on results morning and spoke of this year students being in a position of power.

That vision was fulfilled in many ways, universities were eager to fill their courses and were far more flexible with entry requirements. Some students did take advantage of the opportunity to 'trade up' in adjustment.

But the real power to the people came in the use of social media and how they shared the highs and lows of the day with each other to get through it.