by Natasha Tierney
The new automated allocations policy was trialled alongside the system currently in use.
Unlike the old system- in which applicants are reviewed by Senior Tutors before being accepted by a college- the new policy automatically places candidates within their first choice college where possible.
The results suggested that 73.2 per cent of students would have been allocated their first choice had the automated system been used.
This compares to the 70.5 per cent of applicants who were actually placed into the college of their choice last year.
Last week, Professor Chris Hutchison, who is in charge of Recruitment and Allocations in the Colleges Office, met with other members of the review committee including the Master of University College, the Senior Tutor of Trevelyan College and the JCR presidents of St Chad’s and Hild Bede.
Professor Hutchison told Palatinate about the main benefits of the new policy, including the decision to put all applicants through the allocations process at the same time, once most of the University’s offers have been made:
“By the second week of February, 95 per cent of offers have been made. So if we run the process then, then most of the people who have expressed an interest in Durham at that time will have received an offer, so everyone will go through the system at the same time.
“The main advantage is that it irons out the perceived inequalities in the old system.”
However, Chloe Williamson, Senior Woman of Chad’s college, was less certain of the trial’s success.
Speaking to Palatinate prior to Thursday’s meeting, Williamson said: “In actual fact, the comparison showed that at Chad’s, with the new automated allocation system, 43.3% of students who applied were given an offer, compared to the previous system where 45% of students got their first choice.
“Similarly, in University College 35.7% of the people who applied got an offer with the automated system, whereas with the previous system 37.9% were given their first choice.
“So, you can see that at the two most over subscribed colleges, the automated system actually allocated fewer students to their first-choice college. However, different data was used to compare the two systems, so any comparison is unfair.”
Professor Hutchison did also acknowledge some flaws in the data, stating: “What we didn’t have to look at was a baseline- a random selection of people who actually turned up at each college on October the first.
“We didn’t have the baseline data in front of us, so what we’d like to do is go back and carry out that study again but with the baseline data included- the baseline data meaning who is actually in the college this year.”
However, he maintained confidence in the trial’s success: “We’ve run simulations five times over the previous year though and each has run exactly the same as the previous so it looks as though it will work just fine.”
Williamson also expressed concern about what the new policy could mean for diversity across the colleges: “The new automated system could mean that colleges may be less diverse. For example, lots of students from independent schools apply to Hild Bede, so under the new allocations system you would expect that if 70% of the people applying to Hild Bede were from independent schools then 70% of the people at Hild Bede would be from independent schools.”
Whilst Professor Hutchison did not comment on how the new process might affect things such as independent and state school diversity, he did emphasise a focus on ensuring that there were students with a range of interests across all colleges: “We ran a random selection of a hundred people who would have gone to University College or would have gone to Chad’s had the process been run this year.
“If you look through the list of skills, they were rugby and lacrosse players- many of those people do play musical instruments as well, they do volunteering and quite a lot of them were head boy or head girl.
“So if you think of a cross section of any skill or interest that colleges would be interested in, then those people encapsulate it.”
He also argued that the automated system would benefit Senior Tutors, allowing them time to focus on persuading successful applicants to accept their offers:
“We really need to re-deploy labour to communicating with successful applicants and making sure that we maximise conversion, as actually this is a big issue.
“You can start to communicate with applicants in a personalized way to make them understand that we’ve given them an offer and we really want them to come.”
After many have voiced concerns about the depersonalisation of the allocations process, Hutchison added:
“There will still be head of house discretion within the system. Even as it works now we have instances where we clearly put a student in a college which is not appropriate and heads of house have discretion to move people around- that will still be the case with the new system.”
Professor Graham Towl, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Warden, commented on the results of the trial, telling Palatinate: “The overall aim of introducing the automatic allocation process is to ensure we have a fair, open and transparent process for College allocations in place which maximises the number of students offered a place in their preferred College.
“Our trial data shows that the automatic process meets this objective.”
Photograph: Venus Loi