Following the announcement of the Higher Education White Paper, I couldn’t make my mind up about the proposals. It didn’t get the scrutiny it deserved after the announcement as it was overshadowed by the news of the tuition fee rises. As such, it’s taken until now to really be able to see the effects of it and therefore make a judgement on the policy.
For those that don’t know, universities traditionally had strict quotas of UK/EU students it could take and there were fines for those that significantly overrecruited. Under the new system, students with AAB+ (or over 36 points in the IB) will be excluded from this quota. In theory then, universities could recruit as many of these students as it likes. This threshold is set to be lowered to ABB next year.
Now I’ve seen the policy in action, I can see nothing but negative consequences on a number of factors:
Although technically you can’t overrecruit AAB+ students in an official sense, the government policy now essentially encourages recruiting as many of these students as physically possible.
It makes sense from the outside, given that the expenses of the majority of courses (excluding many of the medicinal related ones) are sunk costs. In other words, once the initial investment has been made on, for example, library materials, teaching staff etc. adding one extra student to the cohort makes little difference financially. In most cases, it would be economically beneficial to accept their £9k payment and let them on board.
However, it would be a grave mistake to view this issue through a purely economic prism. If too much emphasis is put on the financial incentive, we will see a serious decline in quality of experience for these students.
I’m talking big class sizes (which I would argue are often too big already, as one class I had recently didn’t even have enough chairs and desks for all of us), and a squeeze on accommodation places.
I don’t know if universities are attempting to over recruit beyond capacity, but it does seem suspicious that the majority of courses from the mid-tier Russell Groups (York, Bristol, Sheffield etc.) are in clearing, when usually only a handful of courses are available.
Lowering Entry Requirements
In some cases, the clearing grade requirements are actually lower than the prospective requirement. For example, Sheffield University are accepting students for their Law course with AAB, versus the published offer of AAA.
Also, all A-levels weren’t created equal and from face value, they are treated as such. Although it’s difficult to make this case without sounding elitist, is a candidate with AAB in known ‘softer’ subjects like General Studies, Critical Thinking and Home Economics really more suitable for university study than a student that got BBB in Maths, Chemistry and English Literature for example?
Too Much Choice in So Little Time
Those that are lucky enough to get AAB now have a huge range of options as to where to go. As alluded to before, these students may even be able to now get into courses which have had their grades lowered compared to the prospectus.
The problem is, choosing which university to go to is not something any student should make in a space of a couple of weeks – especially where there’s pressure to get it done sooner rather than later as accommodation spaces fill up.
It gives a prospective student limited time to look into things like what bursaries the university offers, course content and of course, the actual campus and department they would be studying in.
This could potentially lead to some late applicants students who didn’t do their research dropping out, accruing some extra student debt in the process. Time will tell if this ends up being the case.
Harms Social Mobility
The fact is, the majority of those from well-achieving schools, particularly those from private school, will get these grades or exceed them. Yet, the majority of those educated in the state sector (minus the grammar schools) won’t. It’s simply not a level playing field.
Another factor is the fact that only A-level and International Bacc students qualify, so those with “equivalent” scores in BTECs will miss out. This clarification was not made until very late on in the day, and this qualification is far more likely to be taken by those in state education.
It also serves to discourage mature students, who are more likely to be doing an Access to HE diploma as opposed to more traditional qualifications.