University of Cambridge

Students mind the gap

11/05/2011

With undergraduate tuition fees reaching £9,000, a recent survey shows undergraduates increasingly feel a gap in vital skills needed to equip them for their studies.

Recent research by University of Cambridge International Examinations found that nearly all (94%) current first-year students feel their secondary education could have prepared them better for the academic rigour of university. The awarding body is encouraging headteachers to consider preparatory curriculum options, like Cambridge Pre-U, which offer greater opportunities for subject specialisation and independent study.

The first-year university students identified skills and abilities they believe they should have developed at school:

  • Half of current first-year undergraduates said they lacked the necessary independent study and research skills when they arrived at university
  • Over a third (37%) said their sixth form did not provide them with adequate essay-writing skills
  • Just under a third (31%) said they would have benefited from more in-depth study of a subject earlier on in their education

When asked how they compared the level of work in their first term at university with school:

  • Half of the students said university was a big jump from school
  • 1 in 5 students found their university studies completely different to their experience in school but another 1 in 5 students felt it was about the same
  • 1 in 9 reported feeling out of their depth managing their higher education courseload

Increasing recognition of the benefits of developing independent study skills and in-depth subject knowledge is leading to increasing demand for Cambridge Pre-U amongst UK students. A total of 120 state and independent schools across the country now offer the qualification and students at around 90 schools will sit Cambridge Pre-U examinations this year – a 50% increase on 2010. Another 300 schools have registered interest.

Christy Rusha, a former Cambridge Pre-U student, now studying Law at university, said: “Having studied Cambridge Pre-U, I had an extra edge in getting to grips with the level of independent study required of us on my law course. The Pre-U course’s rigour meant that I have entered university with in-depth study skills, intellectual curiosity, and self-directed learning skills that are proving invaluable to my success here.”

Jack Bradley, a former A Level student who is studying History, said: “Although the subjects I took for A Level were ones that I’ve always been interested in, the structure of the course limited, rather than encouraged, my own enthusiasms and lines of thoughts. Right from the start, I was studying more exam technique than history or literature.

“I would have appreciated a course that gave me the freedom to think and research more independently; as opposed to the quality of my work being assessed on my ability to follow a formulaic marking scheme. This type of study is totally unrealistic preparation for university, and is the reason that university tutors have to spend the first few months of a course ‘acclimatising’ students to a new way of learning.”

Commenting on the findings, Ann Puntis said: “With so much speculation about how best to prepare students for the rigour of university study, it is telling that, when asked directly, young people admit to not having mastered these critically important study skills during their school years.

“We consulted closely with schools and universities on how the curriculum could help develop those skills. The outcome is Cambridge Pre-U. This research shows that we were right to develop a curriculum that supports schools in helping students prepare for university. Universities often tell me that the students who get the most from their studies are the ones who’ve developed independent learning, thinking and writing skills in the sixth form.”

Notes to editors

University of Cambridge International Examinations carried out research with over 1,000 undergraduates in March 2011, into their attitudes to the transition from secondary education to university.

About University of Cambridge International Examinations
University of Cambridge International Examinations is the world’s largest provider of international education programmes and qualifications for 5%26amp;minus;19 year olds. Our qualifications are taken in over 160 countries and recognised by universities, education providers and employers across the world.

We are part of the Cambridge Assessment Group, a not-for-profit organisation and a department of the University of Cambridge. We share in their mission of providing excellence in education.

Our programmes and qualifications develop successful learners and support the economic performance of countries where we work at national level.

Contact
Geraldine Seymour
International Communications Manager
University of Cambridge International Examinations
Tel: +44 1223 553323
seymour.g@cie.org.uk

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