Support for schools to meet Gatsby Benchmark 7: Higher Education Encounters

You will have seen the new Careers strategy: making the most of everyone’s skills and talents, which was published in December. As well as the subsequent statutory guidance for governing bodies, school leaders and school staff.

I wanted to provide some support for careers colleagues with benchmark 7, specifically the Higher Education and University encounters. Towards ensuring one meaningful encounter with universities by the age of 16 for students, and two university visits for students considering university by the age of 18.

My expertise falls into the university and higher education remit.  I have spent my career working for a number of universities before starting to support schools with their university engagement.

I was therefore encouraged to see at least two university encounters by the age of 18 included in the guidelines. These university encounters will support students to make one of the biggest decisions they will ever make. Around 1 in 3 eighteen year olds will progress into higher education, and the investment is a significant one. Whilst the cost is often associated with the required tuition fees and maintenance loans, and potential £50,000 + student loan balances upon graduation, let’s not forget, that the time investment is considerable too, with most degrees still being three years or more in length.

So what will university encounters do?

Firstly, university encounters will dispel some myths about the cost of university. Yes, university is on the face of it, very expensive, but we need to be telling students about the repayment thresholds, student loan terms and graduate premiums too. University visits can support that, and I imagine students will feel a lot happier about student fees and finance if they speak to an expert on the subject. Schools and careers colleagues, and even careers leaders cannot be expected to provide that level of information, but universities receive questions day in, day out, about it, and will be happy to help you to.

Secondly, around 6% of students start their first year at university and drop-out. Whilst there will be many reasons for that, it is inevitable that many of those students that do drop out could be avoided if they were more aware of what they would be getting for their investment, again through university encounters. This may well feed into a greater chance of them picking the subject and university which is right for them too, if they have the opportunity to participate in subject taster events during a university encounter for example.

Then there are the barriers to Higher Education as well. Where certain students would be more or less likely to participate in higher education than others, based on various factors which are outside of their control. Again university encounters would work to address this, by opening doors for students where they may have been previously closed.

But my final point is about the excellent university encounters that are available for you and your students – over 1,000 of which are listed on UniTasterDays. Universities will be able to meet your requirements for all manner of events – anything from a business masterclass, through to a personal statement talk or bespoke open day group visit. Essentially this will form many of the higher education encounters stipulated in Gatsby benchmark 7. Universities may even be able to help with funding a visit too, if you do not have the budget for transportation or lunch for example. It is certainly worth asking the question. They may even be able to support with your own CPD as well, through events like Teachers’ Conferences.

My advice is to speak to universities and start your engagement. You can do this through the free resources at UniTasterDays, or by contacting a university directly. Some of the departments you may encounter will include the “Education Liaison”, “Outreach”, “Widening Participation”, “School and College Liaison” or even “Student Recruitment” teams. University colleagues will be fantastically helpful to you. The encounters you arrange may well also serve as an excellent motivator for your students for their upcoming examinations.

About the Author

Jon Cheek is the Commercial Director of UniTasterDays (, an award-winning website for schools to find university events for their school groups. You can find Jon on twitter @UniTasterDays.