Since 1992, polytechnics and many colleges of higher education have been able to use the designation 'university' and award their own degrees. They have adopted new names to suit. Almost all applications for first degree, Diploma of Higher Education and Higher National Diploma courses now go through UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, Fulton House, Jessop Avenue, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL50 3SH; Tel: general enquiries 01242 222444; applicant enquiries 01242 227788. The one exception is if you are applying to the Open University, in which case you apply direct. Full details about how to apply, including the complex arrangements for Oxford and Cambridge, are set out in the very clear and precise UCAS Handbook, obtainable free from your school/college or direct from UCAS.
If you are at a school or college you should get your application form from them. Only if you are not currently in education can you get a form direct from UCAS or from the local careers office.
Briefly, you choose up to eight institutions and list them in institution code number order on your UCAS form. You also give details of your academic qualifications. Some universities will lay down general GCSE or SCE requirements for all students regardless of the course, so make sure that your qualifications satisfy these as well as those of the course. There have been cases where a student accepted by a department has been rejected by the university because he or she did not have the matriculation requirements.
There are two other important parts of the form: a space for you to describe your interests and activities, and a space for your school or college to write a confidential report on you. With so many well-qualified candidates, these two personal descriptions are often very important in helping university admission tutors to select candidates.
Your referee will return the forms plus the 12 application fee to UCAS, who sends them to your chosen universities. Those universities decide whether or not to interview you, or to decide on your application without an interview. An offer may be conditional - i.e. dependent on your obtaining certain grades at examinations yet to be taken (A or AS level, Scottish Highers, etc) - or unconditional.
In August and September, after the A level results are out, the Clearing Operation takes place. People who have no offers at that stage, or have failed to get the required grades for their conditional offers, are given another chance to apply for vacancies.
Other College Courses
Where there is no central system for applications to courses mentioned in this book, eg at further education, and specialist colleges, you normally have to apply direct to the college, according to the instructions given in the college prospectus.
Probably there will not be a closing date for applications, because most colleges continue accepting applications until the course is full, but popular courses fill up fast, so you should apply as early as you can in the academic year before you want to begin the course. It is important to read the college's instructions carefully, and fill in the form neatly and accurately. If you are asked for a personal statement about yourself, your interests, and why you want to take that particular course, compose this with care. Do not make claims about yourself and your interests that you cannot substantiate, but try to make it interesting and lively. Try to keep to the length they suggest - not too long and not too short. You will be asked to name at least one person who can give a reference about your academic work. Most people will ask their school or college to give this reference: if you prefer to ask someone else, it is best to explain why to the college. Make sure that you ask someone of appropriate status and experience to write the reference for you.
The Education Counseling and Credit Transfer Information Service (ECCTIS) can provide information on all courses offered at universities and institutes of higher education throughout the UK, and all other courses in further education leading to qualifications, other than GCSE.
ECCTIS can also give information about transferring credits for study from one institution to another. ECCTIS is owned by the Department for Education and run by a consortium which includes UCAS. Each August and September ECCTIS provides updated information on vacancies still available. Its services are available by subscription on a Compact Disc (CD-ROM) or online through Campus 2000. Over half the secondary schools in the UK subscribe. Casual users can also gain access through PRESTEL. It should also be available in the local reference library or careers office.
When the A level results come out a number of national newspapers print daily comprehensive details and advice about course vacancies.
Courses for the Professional Examinations
If these are public courses at colleges, open to anyone with the required academic background, you apply for them in the normal way, as for any other college course. If you have a training contract, your employer will often make the arrangements for you, or provide some help in making the application.
Courses specially run by the professional bodies, some of which may be compulsory, will be publicized to members of the sponsoring body, with full details about how to apply, closing dates, etc.
If you are working towards a professional qualification, it is essential to be a registered student of the relevant body, or you will not be able to take their exams; in any case, registration will give you full access to the information about courses that you need, with other benefits and help.
Grants for Degree Courses
If you are accepted for a first-degree course at a UK institution or a similar course certified by the DFEE to be equivalent to a first degree, and have lived in Great Britain for at least three years, you should be eligible for a grant. Courses accepted by the DFEE as equivalent to degree courses include the Higher National Diploma teacher-training courses, initial Diploma courses and BTEC and SCOTVEC Higher National Diploma. Grants for degree students are mandatory and paid on a means-tested national scale. If you have been self-supporting for at least three years you can claim a grant means-tested according to your income, not that of your parents; otherwise the scale of grant varies according to your parents' income. In England and Wales the grant is paid by the LEA; in Scotland through the Education Department; and in Northern Ireland on a similar basis to England and Wales. A full grant covers tuition fees, college dues and student union fees, plus an allowance for board and lodging during term. You can also claim travelling expenses.
Full details about grants are given in the DFEE leaflet 'Student Grants and Loans: A Brief Guide' published annually by the Department For Education, and available from DFEE Publications, PO Box 2193, London SW1P 3BT, and, for Scottish students, 'Guide to Student Allowances' from the Scottish Education Department, Awards Division, Gyleview House, Red-heughs Rigg, South Gyle, Edinburgh EH12 9AH. Irish students should apply to the appropriate Department of Education in Ireland.
Grants for Diploma Students
As the Diploma is a designated course, LEAs must pay a student grant for it. If you decide to transfer to a first-degree course the LEA must pay a grant covering the full course, a total of three years for an ordinary degree or four years for some Honours degrees. Problems sometimes occur if the total length of time you are studying is more than three (or four) years. LEAs do not have to pay grants for the extra time, though many of them choose to do so. At a time when LEAs have to make cuts in education expenditure it may be more difficult to get 'topping-up' grants, so you may have to support yourself for one year of the course if you are taking more than the normal period to complete it.
Grants for Other Courses
LEAs have the power to pay grants, known as discretionary grants, for courses below degree level, but there are no national scales or regulations. You should write to your local education authority to find out whether you would be eligible for any financial help. These discretionary grants may be hard to get in times of education cuts, but it is always worth trying. Some of the full-time accountancy courses for the professional qualifications are very likely to qualify for this kind of help. If you live in Scotland or Northern Ireland you apply to the local authority education department for these grants, not to the central education authority as for degree-level grants. The procedure in England and Wales is the same as for degree-level grants.
Applications for Grants
You should be able to get the appropriate forms for applications for grants from your school or college, or direct from the LEA or education department.
It is a good idea to put in a preliminary application for a grant as soon as you make up your mind that you will be taking some kind of course. You can apply from the January before you plan to start. You can then get all the necessary forms and evidence of parents' income ready in advance, even if you have not yet received a firm offer of a place. Do not leave the grant application until the last minute, as the offices are very busy at the end of the summer and your application may be delayed. This means you could be faced with large bills to pay at the beginning of term, and no grant to pay them with.
The Local Education Authority Minimum Grant
Because the amount of grant you receive depends on your parents' income, it is essential to have their cooperation in preparing the application form. Some students have had difficulties, either because their parents refuse to give details of their income or because they are unwilling, or unable, to pay the parental contribution towards the costs of studying at college which the national scales of payment expect.
LEAs will pay the tuition fees only for a degree course to students whose parents have not completed the income statement on the application form, but they do not pay any maintenance. If you do run into this kind of difficulty, your school or college tutor may be able to help by discussing the problem with your parents. Colleges do have limited Access Funds to help students in severe financial difficulties.
The student loan scheme allows students to borrow from the Students Loan Company once they have begun their course. You must have a residence qualification and may not take out more than one loan during each year of the course. The loan does not have to be paid back until you have finished your course and are earning a reasonable salary. Interest is not charged but repayments are index-linked. Full details and the necessary forms will be available from your college. A full explanation is given in 'Student Grants and Loans'.
Help from Your Employer
It is a condition of training contracts with the chartered accountancy bodies, and recommended for training with the other accountancy associations, that employers provide paid study leave for courses and pre-exam revision, and give assistance with the cost of courses and entrance fees for exams. You should find out from your potential employers what help they are prepared to give during the training period, as their support, encouragement and financial help can make a great deal of difference to your success in passing the exams.