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8:44pm on Wednesday, 9th January, 2013:

Destination Essex


Bored rigid by the speeches given at my younger daughter's A-level presentation evening last week, I read through the destinations of the students at her college who were going on to higher education. I noticed some weird and wonderful places in there, some of which weren't any kind of education, let alone higher, but I thought that when I got back I'd maybe compile a list to see what the most popular universities for Colchester Sixth Form College are.

Here's the list of all universities that received 5 or more students across all disciplines:

UniversityStudents Received
East Anglia55
Anglia Ruskin34
Canterbury Christ Church25
University Campus Suffolk19
Nottingham Trent14
University College London12
Colchester Institute11
Queen Mary's College8
London Metropolitan7
King's College London6
Liverpool John Moores6
Oxford Brookes6
Royal Holloway6
Sheffield Hallam6
Bath Spa5
St Mary's College Twickenham5

OK, so seeing Essex and Anglia Ruskin in the top five isn't a surprise: these universities are based in the area so students who want to save money on accommodation by studying locally will go there. I was expecting East Anglia to score highly, but I wasn't expecting them to be pretty well on a par with Essex. It would seem that lots of students like the idea of being away but not so far away that they can't get back quickly by train. Kent, which like East Anglia is a peer of Essex, scores highly for similar reasons. I was not expecting to see 25 students going to Canterbury Christ Church, though: it's not exactly a well-known university.

The interesting thing to note from the top five from a recruitment point of view is that if Colchester is sending its sixth-formers to Norwich and Canterbury then Norwich and Canterbury could perhaps be persuaded to send their sixth-formers to Colchester.

Looking down the list, geography continues to play a part (which is a shame for Essex, because half our catchment area is the North Sea). The Russell Group universities present appear in roughly the order of proximity to Colchester: Nottingham, Southampton, Sheffield, York, Leeds, Bristol, Exeter, Warwick, Durham, Manchester. The London members of the Russell Group (UCL, QMC and KCL), appear lower down than they should geographically; I expect this is because the rents for London are rather higher than the rest of the world. What is surprising is that some universities that are not as far west as others are north don't show here; in particular, Birmingham is closer than Sheffield but only 4 students went there so it didn't make my arbitrary cut.

For peers of Essex University (1994 Group and the like), it doesn't look as if people want to travel far to go there. Reading, Bath, Leicester, Loughborough, Sussex, Surrey, Royal Holloway and Goldsmiths are all relatively close, except Bath (which will probably be Russell Group soon). Again, the London colleges (Royal Holloway and Goldsmiths) suffer because they're in London and therefore expensive to attend.

The remaining universities are all what are euphamistically known as "new universities": they're all about teaching and training, with not a great deal of research going on (because until 1992 they weren't universities). There are many, many of these scattered throughout the UK, and while some have clearly been chosen for proximity to Colchester (Colchester Institute and University Campus Suffolk in particular, but Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire aren't far either), others are harder to explain. There are quite a lot in London suburbs (Kingston, Greenwich, Westminster, Roehampton and Twickenham — only London Metropolitan is actually in the centre); presumably this makes them more affordable than the ones in the West End. I have to say, though, some of those have among the lowest reputations for universities in the UK, so either students haven't been given good advice or the tuition fees were markedly lower.

It's the remaining universities that are interesting to look at from a recruitment perspective. There has to be something about what Brighton is saying to prospective students to put it right up there at number 6. Even if you can explain it by the fact that Brighton has a great reputation as a city (culturally, it's like the south of England's version of San Francisco), that doesn't explain Portsmouth's high showing. Portsmouth is basically a naval base, because of its immense natural harbour and its two extra high tides a day (caused by the location of the Isle of Wight). Lincoln has been throwing money at advertising for several years and it seems to be paying off; the town itself is pretty (like York and Bath), so that's what has been featuring in its ads. It seems to have worked.

Nottingham Trent and Coventry are not located in beautiful cities, though. Nottingham is the murder capital of England and Coventry lost its good looks when it was bombed to dust in World War 2. Why Coventry and not, say, Northampton? Why Nottingham Trent and not, say, De Montfort? What did Plymouth and Bournemouth do that placed them ahead of the much nearer Chichester? Why would six students go all the way to Liverpool John Moores rather than, say, Derby or Wolverhampton?

There's one other point to make from this list. The full list has 745 students on it, of which only one went to either Oxford or Cambridge (it was a girl doing theology at Cambridge Murray Edwards, which is what they call New Hall these days). Colchester Sixth Form College is rated very highly, consistently doing way above average for A-levels and even better at International Baccalaureats. There were students there this year who got 4 grade A*s in non-drivel subjects. It's appalling that only one of them got to go to Oxbridge (and even she is studying an unfashionable subject at a women-only college).

Hmm. I seem to have spent more time on this post than I was intending to do...

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Copyright © 2013 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).