The UK's Russell Group universities, which includes Cambridge, Oxford, Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh, Exeter, Imperial and Kings Colleges, and the London School of Economics, have huge social, economic and cultural impacts locally, across the UK and around the globe: they produce more than two-thirds of the world-leading research produced in UK universities and support more than 300,000 jobs across the country. Their economic output is more than £32 billion every year.
In 2015-16, 417,000 undergraduates and 192,500 postgraduates were studying at a Russell Group university. Inevitably, like the Ivy Leagues universities in the US, they are hugely sought after – and in a position to be VERY demanding about entry requirements.
Eight years ago, the Russell Group published a very restricted list of "facilitating" subjects that they recommended students study to gain a place at one of their 24 universities: these were very much the traditional academic subjects of Mathematics and Further Mathematics, English (Literature), Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Geography, History and Languages (Classical and Modern).
However, this focus on the more traditional subjects inevitably inhibited the decision-making of students wanting to pursue subjects that mattered to them, and increasingly to industry and commerce. Schools wanting to ensure that they kept up their Russell Group entry statistics started either diverting students from now “less valued” subjects or simply did not offer the breadth of subject choice that is available through the various Exam boards.
Subjects in the Arts, Sport and broader cultural subjects – those that are now increasingly more valued by companies like Google and other technology companies as integral to the creative mind-set driving the new economy – were either unavailable or not deemed “challenging” and “suitable” for more academic students with Russell Group ambitions.
Their latest decision means that subjects such as Accounting, Applied Science, Dance, Drama, Economics, Environmental Studies, Information and communication technology (ICT), Law, Music technology, Performing Arts, Photography, Physical education, Politics, Psychology, Sociology, Sports science, and Travel and Tourism are now just as “valuable” and “important” if they support the subject that the student is seeking to follow at university.
Of course, there are still some careers, including medicine, which will generally require core Sciences and Mathematics. Even here, however, a fourth A level in almost any non-related subject, or study for the EPQ (the Extended Project Qualification), will arguably offer students the ability to stand-out.
As part of the announcement, the Russell Group has also introduced a new, much better website, for students, schools and parents to guide them in terms of subject and degree options.
The new guidance allows students to search by the ideal subjects they would like to study at university to find out suggestions on the best fit – and also search simply by the areas they are most interested in and get suggestions for the degree courses that are likely to provide a good fit.
We, at WhichSchoolAdvisor.com always value those schools more highly which offer subject breadth. It’s an approach that has now proved justified with the latest announcement by the Russell Group.
Schools with restrictive curricular inevitably cannot meet the needs of the broadest range of students, because students have no choice but to study one of more subjects in which they may have little interest or ability. The benefit to the school is clear - the costs to the school are invariably lower, since they do not need to employ as many specialist staff. But how does this benefit students? And how does this enable the new economies to grow when the skills needed are not being taught?
Whilst this latest guidance is particularly directed at students looking for places at Russell Group universities, their new approach is now much more broadly applicable and aligned to the demands of all British universities. And it does not apply solely to UK universities…
The same also holds true of US, Canadian, International Baccalaureate and Indian schools.
In US and Canadian schools this means asking about breadth of Advanced Placement subject choice.
In Indian schools this means looking for schools that go beyond the basic and dominant offer of only Commerce or Science streams.
In the case of schools offering a very wide range of subject choice, this is indicative for parents of a school more likely to be able meet their individual child’s or children’s interests and needs, and probably as, or rather more, important than looking at previous examination results and league tables which may well no longer be relevant to the direction that industry, commerce and employment are taking today.