The benefits of not going to university

Yesterday was our exam board for finalists, where we agreed module marks for the year and made our final degree classification recommendations to the university (overseas readers might look at the QAA website for more information about English practice).  As in previous years, we’ve noticed once again that those students who have spent a year on a professional or academic placement during their studies with us have performed noticeably better (and more consistently) than those who don’t.

Surrey is very rare in offering the option of a placement to students on essentially every programme it runs and Politics has been part of that, with students doing such varied activities as working for refugee organisations in South Africa, corporate social responsibility for large multinationals, working for MPs and studying politics in Denmark and the US.  This takes place after the second year of study, and before the final year.

Students’ own feedback on this suggests these experiences have helped them to develop a stronger sense of why they are at university (i.e. rather than just because it is expected of them), to try out their academic learning in an applied setting, and to strengthen their skills in time management, presentation and interpersonal relations.  In short, it seems to help them get through the demands of modern living.

This is excellent, and one of our primary objectives at educators: helping students realise their potential. But it also has another beneficial side-effect, namely that their academic performance seems to gain from it as well. 

Looking over the results from the previous four years, we see that while students who go out on placement have somewhat better academic performances in the year before placement (compared those that don’t), they increase that gap significantly in the year after placement.  Moreover, while some students see a small drop in mean grades in their final year, this almost never happens with placement students (and didn’t happen at all this year).

This suggests that placement students bring back some of their experience into their final year of study, and that this in turn helps them to achieve better results on the narrow metric of grading.  So for all students thinking about placements, I would strongly recommend it.

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