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Beware universities mis-selling courses on open days

Beware universities mis-selling courses on open days

Beware universities mis-selling courses on open days

It’s university application time. Hundreds of thousands of potential students across the country are deciding on their top pick institutions and courses. Many will have been on open days and been impressed by the facilities of the high powered institutions that could change their lives.

I’m a huge fan of university education – I think for many (though not all) it can broaden your financial, cultural, and general world outlook. Yet I want to sound a note of caution: how good a reflection of university life is the open day?

A few years ago I went with my little sister to an open day when she was choosing a course. It was a grand university and we got there for a talk on the international relations course. The man who walked in was an eminent professor who is often interviewed by world media – and within the sector, he is rather well-known.

He waxed regally about himself, the subject and the course for about 25 minutes. All looked good; I could see impressed young faces all around me (and some older ones too – many university applicants are mature students these days). 

Then it came to the question and answer session. One bright potential student put their hand up and asked: "How many contact hours do you have with undergraduates?" 

There was a pause, the professor hesitated, then said; "Actually, I don’t teach undergraduates, I only deal with research students." 

So the young questioner clarified; "In other words, we will never see you at all?"

"Correct," said the professor. 

That was it. If it hadn’t been for that bright student, no one would have realised that what they were being sold – the dream of getting (someone who considered himself to be) one of the world’s great minds on the subject – wasn’t a reality on this course. It got worse as people started to ask about practical issues such as whether or not it was possible to take a sandwich course and go to study abroad? The professor didn’t know. This continued, in fact he knew little about the practical details at all – no surprise as he didn’t have much involvement with them.

You could argue it was just ‘spin’, using one of their big names to draw people in, but there are many walks of life where we’d have called this mis-selling.  

I made a complaint to the university about this – and it agreed to look at its practices (which is why I’ve not named it). 

The appropriate halfway house would’ve been to couple him with another academic who was in charge of the course – so you had one to ‘sell’ the subject and the other to ‘sell’ the course.

These days, with the nominal cost of university at £9,000 per year per course (I say nominal because it is actually what you repay not what you’re charged that counts – see Student Loan Mythbuster), universities can’t allow themselves to behave in this old school paternalistic way.

We now have a much more consumer-driven university landscape and it’s important that universities understand that the way they portray themselves, like any other environment trying to attract business, needs to be ethical, clean, clear and above board.

Related Past Blogs:

Foodbank financial triage – an update

Foodbank financial triage – an update

Foodbank financial triage – an update

In August I blogged that I was going to fund a radical pilot scheme to get financial triage into foodbanks with the Trussell Trust.

The idea is that when people are asking for food, it’s a great time to try and help them manage their money and see what help is available – so hopefully the trip to a foodbank (to which people are often referred by a health or social agency) will be a one off.

For full details on the scheme and my involvement read my I’m excited to be involved in financial triage at foodbanks blog post.

The Trussell Trust has just sent its first progress report to me, so I thought I’d share it, as I know many of you were interested.

"Six food banks have been lined up to participate in the pilot. They are:

  • Hammersmith and Fulham
  • Stroud
  • Coventry
  • Cardiff
  • Durham
  • Dundee

Plus Tower Hamlets which we will wind into the pilot as they have already implemented a programme which is still running. No money will go to them directly, however we will include their results.

We have lined up and have spoken to all initial Partners: CAP, Turn2us, CMA, Money Advice Trust, CAB.

Following all press including Martin‘s interview, the Trussell Trust received 57 enquiries from potential partners wishing to participate in the pilot. Whilst the above listed have been chosen to participate, the others are being managed until such a time it is appropriate to proceed with them.

Computers have been organised for all trial Partners (at nil cost to the project, sourced through Avios air miles promotion by being their charity partner).

David has visited Northern Ireland where he has put the wheels in motion as follows:

  • Set up and agree terms for NI ( Northern Ireland) using Advice NI.
  • Advertised for a Project Coordinator. Interviews will be held on 13th October."

So we’re about to be up and running. It’s great to see so many people engaging with this.

I’m excited to be involved in a radical financial triage foodbanks programme

I’m excited to be involved in a radical financial triage at foodbanks programme

I’m excited to be involved in a radical financial triage at foodbanks programme

A radical experiment is about to start involving the Trussell Trust and I’m delighted to be playing a part. Rather than regurgitating, here is the charity’s press release which tells you all…

"FOODBANKS TO LAUNCH RADICAL ‘FINANCIAL TRIAGE’ PROGRAMME"

Foodbank charity the Trussell Trust is to launch pilot funded by a 6-figure personal donation from Money Saving Expert Martin Lewis.

This pioneering idea is a response to the alarming increase in people being referred to foodbanks in severe financial difficulty. The scheme could revolutionise how the UK’s leading foodbank charity works and will see foodbanks partner with debt and money-management charities to provide instant financial help to people in foodbanks at the point of crisis.

The pilot is announced as new research shows that more than one in ten UK families have taken out a pay day loan to make ends meet in the last year (12%) and a quarter (24%) of UK families have fallen into debt to be able to provide for the family. Over 900,000 people received three days’ emergency food from Trussell Trust foodbanks in 2013/14 financial year, 163% more than the previous year.

David McAuley, Trussell Trust Chief Executive says: "It’s deeply concerning that the basics of dignified life in modern Britain – food, heat and electricity – can fall out of reach for so many. High prices, static incomes, problems with benefits and harsh welfare sanctioning are forcing people into extreme financial difficulty.

"When you’re facing stark choices between eviction or feeding the family, debt and high interest loans can seem to offer a short term solution, the reality is that this often forces finances to spiral out of control.

"By introducing a ‘financial triage’ service in foodbanks, where clients are able to connect with free financial and debt advice, people will be given professional help to manage tight finances, avoid pay day lenders and structure debt to prevent the situation from getting worse and to help people break out of crisis much faster."

Martin Lewis’ donation, to be supplemented by additional funds from the Trussell Trust, will enable the charity to develop the first stage of a transformative ‘more than food’ approach to foodbanks, where foodbanks in the pilot project become a ‘hub’ of local service provision.

People in need will be able to access a range of support including emergency food, debt advice and money management all in one location, removing access barriers and cutting down waiting times.

Connecting people with financial support at the point of crisis will also help reduce the workloads of already over-stretched debt and money-management charities by helping to decrease the number of people developing complex and entrenched financial problems.

Despite the evidence of economic recovery, the benefits are not yet filtering down to people living on the breadline. Life is not likely to get easier for the poorest anytime soon which is why finding innovative ways to help people living on low-incomes is urgent.

Martin Lewis says: "The hope is that this scheme will provide a financial equivalent of ‘give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’. I’ve been campaigning for financial education in schools for years, finally that starts on the curriculum in September, but that still leaves great swathes of our society, especially some of the most needy struggling with even the basics of money management.

"Those who go to foodbanks are already open to asking for help. They’ve rightly prioritised the urgent need to feed themselves and their children. Yet if we can intervene at that point to start to get their financial lives back on track, by approachable, non-judgemental help, it will hopefully cut down the number of return visits."

The Trussell Trust runs a network of over 400 foodbanks across the UK that give emergency food and support to people in crisis and, if the pilot is successful, this could be rolled out across the UK in 2015/16.

The pilot scheme will initially be launched in six Trussell Trust foodbanks in different regions of the UK, aiming to improve the financial standing of foodbank users and to improve their household budgetary skills. The scheme will partner with national UK debt charities to offer professional debt counselling services for up to 20 hours a week per centre in each region.

The pilot will start in September 2014.

Related past blogs

Do your kids go to an academy school? I’ve a job for you

Do your kids go to an academy school? I've a job for you

Do your kids go to an academy school? I've a job for you

Yesterday, it was announced that financial education is to become part of the compulsory national curriculum within citizenship and maths. This is fantastic news, but it only binds maintained schools, which are 50% of secondary schools. Academy schools are free to opt out.

While many academies do still follow the national curriculum, it is very important parents ensure headteachers are aware they want financial education to happen (either via the curriculum route or perhaps even more than that). This is especially crucial at a time of curriculum change, such as we’re having now, so they can get it going ASAP.

You can find more detail about what to ask for in the Financial education to be added to the the national curriculum MSE News story. You could even just link to that in an email, and ask if it’ll be happening at your child’s school.

This one is over to you. Let me know, via the details below, what help we can give for you doing this. (Teaching resources are available via Pfeg). Of course wonderfully, some academy schools are already teaching financial ed – bravo to those that are.

Not even a mention, Mr Gove? Plus breaking the quiet carriage rules due to Financial Education tip off

Not even a mention, Mr Gove? Plus breaking the quiet carriage rules due to Financial Education tip off

Not even a mention, Mr Gove? Plus breaking the quiet carriage rules due to financial education tip off

I still can’t quite believe it. Financial education is going to be part of the national curriculum (see the MSE News story). I found out sitting on a London to Manchester train at 9.58am yesterday – 90 minutes before it happened.

I must admit I broke the quiet carriage rules with an involuntary "yessss", to receive a suitably stern look from the Spanish lady sitting opposite me.

The Department for Education gave me a call to say there’d be an announcement in the House at 11.30am (partly as it was my e-petition last year that forced the debate). 

I kept calm and asked for a statement to see what it really was. I was expecting a damp squib mention. Yet what I saw was getting on for a huge chunk of what we asked for in the APPG report (which, I’m very proud that MSE funded – not what was said, but paying for the facilities). It was at this point I yessssed.

Financial education is to be a core part of citizenship, which crucially is a compulsory part of the national curriculum – therefore every maintained school must teach it. Exactly what we’ve wanted.

Not even a mention, Mr Gove?

By the time I arrived at Radio 5 Live before my regular Thursday Consumer Panel slot, the Education Secretary Michael Gove was making his announcement in the Commons – it was all about the much-vaunted change of mind over GCSE scrapping. 

Sadly he didn’t even mention financial education. While the fact it’s happening at all is wonderful and the most important thing; it’s slightly frustrating for those of us who’ve been campaigning for so long that the change came without even a Hansard footnote. (Strange really – it’s a no-brainer, a hugely popular change – I’m surprised he didn’t lead with it and take political capital from it.)

On the back of the announcement, sadly the media coverage has been less than I’d hoped (barring me pushing to get it out) – nothing on any main TV news bulletin, a shame for the 118,000 who signed the petition and made this happen.

So we made a quick call back to the Department to check it hadn’t changed its decision, then press-released it – to try to start the news flow.  

This will change maths too

It was while on air at Radio 5 that I found out we’d also made a dent in Maths too – which had been part of our two-pronged focus.

Now, for the first time, the term "financial mathematics" appears in key stages 3 and 4 of the maths curriculum. 

This means there is genuine recognition of the need for people to be able to calculate APRs and percentages and understand them (exactly what we pushed Education Minister Liz Truss for last week – thank you for listening).

I think that will not only be a boon for financial education, but also for maths itself – helping out with basic numerical problems. While theoretical maths puts many off the subject, talk to them about the cash in their pockets and they get it. So taught well, I hope this will make maths more appealing.

Of course this is still at proposal stage, and we’ll be submitting to that, but we’re pretty confident that now it’s in the proposal, it’ll be tough to get it out.

An important PS
. In my blog a few weeks ago on What’s happening to my £10m donation? I wrote that I wanted a chunk of the money to go towards helping financial education. This announcement has changed the game somewhat, so we need to act quicker. 

As such, I’m going to donate £100,000 of it to the charity Pfeg. I haven’t told the chief exec of the charity yet, as I know she’ll read this blog and the naughty boy in me quite likes the idea of her finding out, as she reads a PS.