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University admissions need to look beyond grades March 13, 2012

Posted by AaronPorter in Higher Education.
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University admissions need to look beyond grades

http://www.opinionpanel.co.uk/community/2012/03/13/university-admissions-need-to-look-beyond-grades/

March, 13, 2012

 

We’ve all heard the headlines; over 100,000 qualified applicants have missed out on university places in the summers of 2010 and 2011, that pupils from private and selective schools still dominate the most selective universities and perhaps most shockingly that there are more Afro-Caribbean male students at London Metropolitan University compared with the entirety of all Russell Group universities put together.

Whilst few would dispute that universities perform a vital role in changing lives and stimulating social mobility, I want to argue that many of our most selective universities haven’t done enough to get students from non-traditional backgrounds through their doors. But crucially it means they are also missing out on students who have the potential to out-perform counterparts from more traditional backgrounds.

I want to stress that prior academic attainment should still be seen as central to the university application process. The ability of a student to perform in assessment is critical to giving any university an assurance that they will also be able to perform at university too. But without taking into account the context of the performance of a student, our universities are missing out on talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

At the moment, the overwhelming majority of universities only consider previous grades, predicted A levels (or equivalent) and a personal statement when deciding who to offer a place. Some universities also include an interview, and done in the right way this can be helpful, but for many it also acts as a barrier to many prospective students. So an applicant with AAB generally stands a better chance of getting offered a place at the most selective universities compared to someone holding just ABB, and at face value that just seems common sense.

However take a not so hypothetical situation. Is it really more of an achievement to attain AAB in a private school, with a staff-student ratio of 15:1 and a private tutor outside of school in the run up to A levels compared with another pupil securing ABB in a difficult comprehensive where the average in the school in CCC and the staff student ratio is 30:1? It’s surely at least arguable that the second is more of an achievement, and certainly an indication of greater potential in the second case. But more importantly put both those pupils in the same university and then think who might end up performing best after 3 years?

A study attempting to look at this very issue demonstrated that taking university applicants with the same grades but one from an independent school and the other from state schools in the bottom quartile, showed that if you then put those same pupils into the same university course the student from a state school would on average out-perform their previously independent schooled counterpart by as many as 7 degree points. Therefore you could quite easily make the case that students from particularly disadvantaged background could actually be offered a place with 1 or 2 lower A level grades (BBB instead of AAB for instance), and they would still on average at least match the performance of an independently schooled equivalent.

Now critics will scream that this is unfair social engineering and an affront to university admissions. But I would argue that this is the only way universities will actually get the very best students at the point of exit from university, and not simply at the point of admissions. Context matters, and the circumstances in which an applicant has secured their previous attainment should be taken into consideration.

I don’t doubt that there are huge complexities, but universities must start seriously considering how they can consider the context of their applicants to better judge what they are capable of achieving. Perhaps then we might start to see a more diverse range of students fortunate enough to study at the most selective universities who undoubtedly play such a crucial role in changing lives and setting graduates up for the world beyond formal education.

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Thur 25 Aug: First or fail: university admissions tutors and the Scottish government August 25, 2011

Posted by AaronPorter in First or Fail, Higher Education.
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First or fail: university admissions tutors and the Scottish government

http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2011/aug/25/first-or-fail-university-admissions

Praise for those dealing with the clearing frenzy, but criticism of the SNP for excluding students from the rest of the UK

clearing advisers

Admissions tutors did a great job of dealing with prospective students this year, but Aaron Porter wants to see a move to a post-qualification application. Photograph: David Levene for the Guardian

The verdict on who has had a good week (heading for a first) and who has had a bad week (heading for a fail).

Heading for a first: university admissions tutors

It’s probably been a busy week, but it’s also been a record week for university admissions tutors. As expected, there was a late scramble for university places once A-level results were announced. With greater demand than ever before, pressure for clearing was unprecedented, with many students desperate to secure a place in the September 2011 entry before tuition fees treble next year. Places were getting snapped up more quickly than bargains in a Christmas sale, and by the start of this week 17,878 had already been allocated, a jump of 31% on last year. With places getting filled in record time, and pressure from university management to get bums on seats in order to balance the books, the pressure was on admissions tutors to deal with thousands of frantic prospective students hoping to secure a university place. So this week admissions tutors definitely deserve a first.

But for all my admiration of what admissions tutors do, particularly in the busy week that follows A-level results, I can’t help but think it simply papers over the crack of a much bigger problem. The fact that in 2011 we still have a system of university admissions based on predictions and followed by an annual frenzied clearing auction can not be right. I agree with my predecessor as NUS president, Wes Streeting (now chief executive of the Helena Kennedy Foundation), writing for the Huffington Post last week who said that “it’s time to consign this university bargain basement to the dustbin of history.” The sooner we can move to a post-qualification application (PQA) system, the better. The government has signalled its intent to investigate PQA in the recent higher education white paper, and this is one pledge I’d like to see the government keep.

Heading for a fail: Scottish government

We saw the commencement of a legal challenge against the Scottish government this week, for what critics believe is their contravention of the European Convention on Human Rights. While the cast-iron guarantee from the Scottish National party government in Holyrood to stick to their pledge for free education in Scotland is laudable, there is a horrid whiff of hypocrisy about it. Despite offering a free education to Scottish students studying in Scotland, an entitlement extended to other students coming from the rest of the EU, students from the rest of the UK are charged between £1,820 and £2,895 per year, set to rise to £9000 next year. Paul Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers believes this contravenes not only the European Convention on Human Rights, but also Britain’s Equality Act.

The implications of this legal challenge will be significant. Scottish universities are already claiming a funding shortfall somewhere in the region of £200m, and with students from the rest of the UK footing much of the bill already, the funding black hole will get bigger if the SNP government loses the case.