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Starting from scratch: a chance to challenge the norm at UA92

If you had a blank page and could start again as an institution, what would you do differently?

UA92 sports six starting dates a year, meaning delayed students do not have to radically change their plans. Photo: UA92

Growth in global student mobility is being driven by affordable fees, employability outcomes and increased access

This is the reality for the academic team at UA92. Having only opened in 2019, they have been cherishing the chance to shape a curriculum and recruitment strategy that challenges the norm.

As the university academy prepared to welcome their latest intake of students, The PIE News decided to pay a visit to Manchester and find out more about what makes UA92 different.

“The way we teach is one module at a time, which basically means students can join at any of the six starting points throughout the year,” explains Gareth Smith, executive director of student life and strategy.

“A number of our international students will end up joining us in February, in the next intake, who would have joined us in January [if they had everything in order on time],” he continues.

“The same is true domestically, because we have students who will turn up today and they haven’t applied to student finance England in time [so we can delay their start until that has been resolved].”

Flexible enrolment is an essential ingredient in supporting both domestic and international applicants. UA92 has been highly praised for its widening participation strategy and shaping a curriculum that offers maximum flexibility.

The irony is that increased accessibility for the local community in Greater Manchester is as relevant to international students seeking to apply from countries like India and Nigeria.

It is estimated that on average one quarter of international students who receive CAS to study in the UK still do not enrol at university, often due to barriers preventing them from arriving on time.

Having six rolling start dates a year at UA92 means delayed students do not have to radically change their plans or defer.

“The benefit of this internationally, would be if somebody doesn’t quite have their CAS in order. You don’t say, ‘oh wait until the end of the year’. You say, ‘wait six or seven weeks and then you can come’,” explains Smith.

“We also, by design, teach half our students in the mornings and half our students in an afternoon.

“They [the students] do that same same kind of pattern in the day for the entire study block which means they’re able to organise their part-time work easily around their study.

“The reality is that many full time students also need to work, and an old-style timetable, where your classes can be anywhere between [the hours of] nine and six, Monday to Friday, is not fair,” continues Smith.

“If most other institutions had a blank sheet of paper I believe they would do something similar [with the timetable] now.”

Full-time students in the UK have often complained about the low number of contact hours on campus and the scattered approach to their timetable, and mature and first generation students are known to have a greater need for certainty over their ability to earn while they learn.

Internationally, the same concerns are just as true – employability is the number one priority for international students.

Many of them at UA92 are taking advantage of job opportunities in the cosmopolitan city of Manchester to finance their life in the UK.

“I know a student who works part time as a steward at Manchester United,” agrees Isobelle Panton, director of recruitment and international. “He is literally living the dream, and thanks to the timetable design, he always knows what shifts he is available to work.”

UA92 only offer undergraduate programmes at the moment, but a key opportunity for students is the option to take an accelerated degree. Validated by Lancaster University, students can complete a bachelor degree in just two years, rather than the usual three – and the route is open to internationals on a study visa.

The UK often struggles to compete with Canada’s two-year associate degrees, but an accelerated degree from UA92 has clear similarities that include getting ahead of the graduate crowd.

“If you look at the kind of domestic market for accelerated [degrees], they are generally in the younger end of mature, by which I mean people in that kind of late twenties, early thirties,” explains Smith.

“It’ll be interesting to see if this is replicated as we grow internationally, the fact that you can complete the same degree in two years being seen as a clear advantage.”

While numbers are still small at UA92 – with less than 1,000 students on campus – 25% are now international students. A partnerships with Navitas as foundation pathway provider is driving up global interest year-on-year.

Coupled with the global sporting mega-brand of Manchester United (the college founders are players from the famous Class of ’92 team) and degree awarding powers from Lancaster University – the huge potential for international appeal is clear.

With a director of disruptive learning already in place, a £2 million OfS funded digital academy, metaverse footprint and NFT qualifications all in the making, there is a statement of intent from UA92 to continue to innovate their curriculum in 2023 relevant for the future world of work.

Perhaps increased digital delivery can provide further access to education for students both at home and abroad.

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