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Clearing Empowers Students To Make The Right Choices About Their Future

06/09/2017 12:18 BST | Updated 06/09/2017 12:18 BST
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For some people A level results day will have been the culmination of two years of hard work; for others, it will have been disappointing.

The clearing process traditionally existed for those who had to readjust their plans on results day, i.e. those scrambling for a backup option. That's no longer the case. Now it is a chance for students to exercise their right to choose - to revisit their university choice one last time and make absolutely sure it is the best place for them to start their career.

The reality is that higher education is changing, and our attitude to the clearing process needs to change with it. Many of the potential undergraduates that I speak to are much more analytical than they used to be in choosing their university course. They are right to take this approach. A recent survey found that one third of students would select a different degree course, if they had the chance to choose again. To avoid this, clearing can act as a powerful exercise in consumer choice, giving students an opportunity to change their mind before committing to that final a decision on where they will spend the next three years. The same study found that mature students report higher satisfaction levels. This is in line with other research, suggesting that mature students are more careful about their choice of degree subject and university, and that they approach this very important life decision with more knowledge and understanding of what will really suit them.

Rather than being scared of clearing, today's students can take full advantage of it and view it as an opportunity to think again about what they really want from their education and careers. And the crucial question for most students is whether that degree course will really help them secure that all important first graduate job. The 2017 Pearson/CBI survey has found that employers look first and foremost for graduates with the right attitudes and aptitudes to enable them to be effective in the workplace. Only 13% think the university attended is more important than the professional skills acquired while studying. It's not where they go but what they have learnt that matters to the vast majority of employers - and especially what professional experience and skills they can demonstrate. Almost a third of employers are dissatisfied with the amount of practical work experience of their graduates, and with their commercial understanding and workplace skills.

These are important points for young people to keep in mind in the lead up to A level results day. Many will be under the illusion that their chosen subject and university are the be all and end all. In reality, this is not the case. A degree on its own is simply not enough any more. Potential undergraduates need to ask whether their course also provides them with the experiences and skills needed to succeed in the highly competitive world of graduate work. Internships, exposure to industry and professional mentoring are all increasingly important and should be top of young people's minds when making their final decision about university.

More informed decision making by students would be good for the higher education sector and would encourage institutions to increasingly develop their courses with graduate employability and the world of work in mind. And employers are willing to help universities achieve this. The 2017 CBI/Pearson employer survey found that three quarters of employers would be willing to play a larger role in supporting schools and colleges in improving careers advice. In time, this would mean that young people enter the clearing process better informed about the next steps in their education.

The rises in tuition fees and the increasingly competitive work place have undeniably changed how young people view education. It's important that university is not only enjoyable and interesting, but that it also helps they secure a great professional future. Young people should make the most of the structures in place to empower them as consumers. Clearing, and the opportunity that it offers prospective students to have one long last think about their futures, is the strongest structure of all. University is a tremendous experience - intellectually satisfying, great fun, and full of opportunities. But there are a lot of universities and a lot of courses - the UK sector is wonderfully diverse. They just need to make sure they are choosing the right one.

Roxanne Stockwell is Principal of Pearson College London, the first higher education institution in the UK to be founded by a FTSE 100 company - Pearson UK