Criticism of admissions process
Last month, Durham University was publically linked to growing concerns over how UK universities should distinguish between high performing applicants.
On 5th April, the Sunday Times published a letter from a parent whose son had been rejected by the University to study History and Russian, despite achieving four ‘A’s at A Level and holding ten ‘A’s or ‘A*s’ at GCSE.
After asking for the decision to be reconsidered, the applicant was told that, given the intense competition for places, the University had taken into account the “educational context in which previous qualifications had been achieved” and applied a “mathematical formula” to reach its decision.
The University informed the applicant that the formula was applied to GCSE results to “recognise candidates who had performed very well despite attending schools where average performance was weak”.
The letter received attention from Chris Woodhead, former chief inspector of schools and now columnist for the Sunday Times’ education feature ‘Answer the Question’.
His response echoed the parent’s concerns of a system that had the potential to work against those who had attended fee-paying schools. “Exactly how it works is not clear to me. Admissions tutors should exercise discretion rather than blindly apply a formula”.
Vice-chancellor Chris Higgins was quick to clarify the University’s position in his bulletin to staff and students. Defending the admissions process, he highlighted the difficulties faced by academic selectors in distinguishing between candidates achieving three ‘A’s or above at A Level. “The University is committed to recruiting high quality students by identifying merit and potential, regardless of background. We do not have quotas or reduce A Level grades for offers to students because of their school type or socio-economic circumstances”.
In June 2008, universities were told that they could adopt controversial admissions procedures to make lower offers to pupils from struggling state schools because they show greater potential than applicants that have been intensively tutored at private schools.
However, last year’s revised Undergraduate Admissions Policy saw no change in the University’s procedures for attracting state-educated applicants. Outreach activities, including a generous bursary scheme to attract students from lower income backgrounds, remain the favoured approach.
It would appear that despite considerable pressure, Durham University admissions tutors remain opposed to the use of social engineering to encourage state school applicants.