Tuesday, February 8, 2011

How about going by ability?

It's a bit of a minefield I know, but suggestions like this never fail to raise my hackles.

Oxford, Cambridge and other top universities should set higher entry requirements for private school pupils than for poor children from state schools, ministers will say this week. 
The ruling will come in guidance for universities setting out what they must do to be allowed to charge the maximum £9,000-a-year tuition fees. To win permission to charge the highest level of fees, a university must show it is doing as much as it can to admit students from all backgrounds.
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, will tell leading colleges they must end "social segregation" and do more to bring in students from low-income families.
Universities will be urged to make more use of "differential offers", admitting poorer students from state schools with lower marks than those expected of private school pupils.
Mr Clegg is backing the "fair access" plans to make plans for higher fees more acceptable to Liberal Democrats and others unhappy at the Coalition's higher education policies.
Next year's rises in fees have led to warnings that the best universities charging the highest fees will become even more dominated by children from wealthy, middle-class homes.
 Now apart from the fact we've got too many people going to university anyway and that dumbing down has been going on for over a generation outside the private schools why should the top universities be forced to take in an influx of students who might not be able to cope anyway? University should not be easy, a degree should be the result of some serious study, so what do our politicians want? To force universities to take in some who have not reached the minimum standard they require. Yes, I know it's unfair for those who are less advantaged, who have struggled through the state system only to find that they've been betrayed by it, but that's not the issue here. Only the best of our best should be going through university, yes private education gives a definite advantage and can make the average kid perform better, but that simply means forcing our state schools to do better too. Private schooling means their pupils are "better educated" meaning they wont struggle at university or hopefully drop out because they will not have so much catching up to do.
Clegg should be looking at state education and forcing improvements through that or expanding the assisted places fund for the brighter state kids, not telling universities to take in smart but less well educated kids who will struggle to catch up as well as do all that is required for a degree.
Yes the system is unfair, but this isn't the solution.

4 annotations:

English Pensioner said...

The question at the end of the day is whether they have to met the same criteria for their degree as the other students?
In a few years time, some left winger (or whinger) will analyse those passing their finals and possibly discover that those who were admitted with lower qualifications are getting lower level passes and demand a different pass level for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. So that when you go to see your doctor, or indeed any other professional, you won't know if he passed all of his exams and has a thorough knowledge of the subject, or whether he only passed some of them and doesn't.

Anonymous said...

"but that simply means forcing our state schools to do better too". Don't make me laugh! How can you possibly do that? It would mean re-educating a vast number of teachers (in private schools)to make them literate to start with. Then some method of imposing discipline in the classrooms would have to be introduced in the face of the "children's right to play up as they want act". And of course any system of meritocracy is unfair in the first place.

Dr Dan Holdsworth said...

Back when I was a spotty undergrad at Leeds Uni, I was on a statistics course there; something like "Bare Essentials for Boneheaded Biologists" or somesuch. In this it was revealed to nobody's real surprise that A levels (even back then in 1989) aren't a clue to how well a student will do in their degree; there is no significant correlation between A Level grade and Degree Grade.

The reason seems to be that whilst it is possible to coach and browbeat a student into passing A levels at a high level (provided they're not completely thick), when you put these self-same students into a university environment, some of them don't do particularly well. Many can't self-motivate and were essentially propelled through A levels by parental terrorism; remove that and they go back to being uninterested lazy slobs.

The old method of coping with this was to deliberately over-subscribe the university First Year, and make the exams at the end of the first year fairly stringent to strip out the dunderheads. Some universities even had a technique of taking only the top 85% of the first year (provided all of these were suitable), so if you weren't genius material and there were unusually many smart students that year, you got failed where otherwise you'd have passed. Notably these universities didn't slide the pass rate the other way; if the year was unusually stupid then the cohort that went on to the second year would be a bit smaller than usual.

This technique works, and works well. Combine it with in-depth interviews and use A levels merely as an initial filter, and you end up with the old-time British university system, which turned out well-educated people efficiently, effectively and rejected those too stupid or lazy to actually get a degree after only their first year.

It only got changed by Labour deciding to pay universities by bums on seats and to expand the numbers of seats dramatically...

James Higham said...

Yes, they're equating money with ability. There shouldn't be any quota from disadvantaged areas - quotas are socialist talk. There should be assistance loans for the poor who do manage to qualify. Or scholarships, which I was on at one point.