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I think we can all agree that this pandemic has been a nightmare for all of us, but I do feel particularly sorry for A level students and undergraduates right now. Many of us will remember the excitement of choosing universities, planning a gap year (I was greedy and took two, one before and after uni) and feeling that first frisson of being in charge of our own destinies.

As a mother of a child who’s ended up taking pretty much his whole A level course in the pandemic, I can see his reality is very different. Questions on his mind: How will A levels be marked fairly? What will university look like in September (and will it be anywhere near worth the debt?). And is there any point if there’s no job at the end of it all?

Despite misgivings, he’s planning to go to university in September anyway – the allure of spending all day in his dressing gown without me nagging about homework or the state of his room (for the record: it’s a health hazard) is clearly a driving force. But I know so many other children his age, and their parents, who are questioning next moves right now and if that sounds like you, I might well have a great solution.

I came across Oxford Media and Business School a few weeks ago and I immediately made contact with Principal Andrea Freeman (FYI – Myers Briggs consultant; NVQ Assessor; Examination board examiner; co-ed senior school governor) to find out more because, to be blunt, it’s such a brilliant idea – a one year diploma course in central Oxford where you can live in rented accommodation with your peers like a normal student, but being taught the skills companies actually want.

Pre-Covid there was a 100% job success ratio (OMBS works with the major recruitment companies) but it might also just give your child space for a year to think about what he or she really wants to do – maybe that is still university the following year, or some travel, but at least they’ll do it with a whole bunch of transferable real life skills. Here’s what I found out from Freeman about how the diploma works.

This course feels so timely – is it new?

No, our Professional Business Diploma is pretty established over the last few years, but I think the level of need is new –university fees, the pandemic and job instability has created a lot of uncertainty from students and parents about whether a degree course is the right option. We are definitely a niche choice – most children would automatically think about university first and we don’t think of ourselves as a replacement for it or as competition – many of our students end up going to university the following year which is great. But we do allow those students who are unsure of their next steps space to think, catch their breath and think about what they want, while opening up avenues they didn’t know existed. No-one ever takes the course and finds paths closing, you always end up with more options and one of those is finding a job at the end of the year.

Do students have to take up residential accommodation to take the course?

No not at all, they can stay at home, but one of the lovely things is that if you want to, you can have the full student experience of living in a house with friends in the middle of Oxford. We manage 13 houses holding 4-6 students, including 7 in Jericho [the trendy central district in Oxford], so there’s no letting agency to deal with, and the properties are kept in great condition.

How many students do you take per year?

Pre-Covid it was a maximum of 80, but after the first lockdown when we were social distancing we had to reduce it to 70, so 5 classes of 14. We are deliberately small, because part of our USP is that we know every student, see them every day for lectures, give them a full 21 hours of tuition a week in classes with a 1pm end on a Friday and make sure they feel supported with a routine – a lot of students are unprepared for university and the lack of structure. We never have a problem with attendance; everything is continuous assessment and to get honours students need 80% in all modules and 95% attendance. It seems to do the trick!

It all sounds great, but how useful is your course in the real world?

One of the main benefits of being small and independent is that we are flexible. So already on the syllabus is how to put on and run virtual meetings because that’s what we’ll all be doing for the foreseeable. We’re also focusing on digital marketing, making sure that students understand the digital landscape and social media, not for themselves but from a company’s perspective – so looking at ad words, analytics, advertising. We make sure students follow current affairs and understand how a business works with all students choosing a business to follow, looking at its share price, and its communications.

All IT programmes are taught to Advanced level so that someone can join a company and be of use immediately, but we also teach entrepreneurial skills, with the students put into groups of four during the second term to come up with a company name, branding, website, business plan, marketing schedule that they present to us as an investment venture. So, everything we do is with real life business in mind.

Can students apply for a grant to come here?

Because we’re a private college rather than a university it’s not possible, although I’m looking into ways to allow students to access loans. Our fees for the one year are comparable to university at £3950 per term for 21 hours a week tuition and a further £2625-2830 for accommodation.

Tell us something that will impress us

Our Digital marketing tutor David Brook launched G2 as Marketing Director of The Guardian and Big Brother for Channel 4 and was the first Marketing Director for Channel 5. Pretty good credentials we think!

What are the odds of getting a job at the end of this course?

I think we can all agree it’s tough out there now, but unless you’re on a vocational course like medicine or architecture what I’m hearing from the recruitment companies I work with is that businesses want to hire those who can slot quickly into a company and add value in the real world. That’s what’s we do.

Oxford Media & Business School, Southern House, 1 Cambridge Terrace, Oxford OX1 1RR. Tel: 01865 240963.

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