Sunday, 5 June 2011

University Education

In the paper edition of the Sunday Times, Chris Woodhead responds to a readers enquiry regarding the number of university students that were accepted on to courses in 2010 who have no UCAS tariff points. He cites values taken from the Higher Education Policy Institute report titled Higher Education Supply And Demand To 2020 written by Robbie Coleman and Bahram Bekhradnia, see here. Turning to table 10, 2010 applicants to UCAS by tariff points, we discover that an astonishing 35% of the intake last September had no UCAS points whatsoever.

Extract from table 10
As the authors point out in paragraph 28,

Unfortunately, the nature of these students with no UCAS tariff points are not known. Some will have overseas qualifications and some will have other, often professional, level 3 equivalent qualifications not recognised by UCAS; but it is reasonable to suppose that in large part they represent able people who left school with few qualifications, and who are seeking to improve their life chances.

Now, if the applicants were paying the full cost of their course then I would, indeed could, have no objection to this state of affairs. After all it would be up to the universitites who they do business with. The problem is that they are being subsidised by the tax payer which means that we are relying on the universities to choose their students well. The only measure I can find that gives some indication of how well the universitites choose their students is a table of Projected Outcomes (Table T5) on the Higher Education Statistics Agency website. There the projected percentage of non-completers for students that entered higher education in 2008 is 12.3%. Even the meanest interpretation of these values implies that at the very least 22.7% of the entrants with no UCAS points will finish their course. So it would seem, much to my surprise, that the admissions procedure is not as barmy as it would first appear.

Which leads me on to another method of selection, this time the selection of pupils for Reading and Kendrick secondary schools. Due to their history of using selection tests to determine which pupils will be offered a place they continue to do so with tests for both schools running at about 10 examinees per place. However, there is a method for parents to challenge selection which is enshrined in The Education (Grammar School Ballots) Regulations 1998. This specifies that if a petition can be raised containing signatures which represent a minimum of 20% of the eligible parents then a ballot can be held. The outcome of the ballot in the form of a simple majority will determine whether the schools are allowed to continue using a selection procedure. Incidentally the eligible parents are those people who are the parents of children at feeder schools. The definition of a feeder school is any school that has sent at least five children in total to these schools in this school year. Needless to say this is causing a lot of debate, mainly here and here, with commenter's quoting OECD and FSM statistics at each other. I have a vested interest in this matter as I have a son at Reading and a daughter at Kendrick. I am also a product of a Grammar school. I am a supporter of selecting people to determine the best education for that child but then given my situation I would say that wouldn't I? What I don't understand, and, incidentally, what makes my son most angry when this topic is raised, is when the subject of class or income is brought into the argument. There seems to be an assumption that academic selection favours the middle-classes and this is proven by the low percentage of pupils receiving free school meals. I would be interested to know what percentage of footballers were eligible for free school meals. My suspicion is that a far greater percentage than the national average of 20% would be the case but would that be a reason for me to suggest that Reading FC should cease to selcet its academy players purely on ability. Surely, as one comment  on the Local Schools Network says, what we should be rewarding are hard work, application and effort?

Interesting footnote: One of the founders of the Local Schools Network is Fiona Millar. According to Wikipedia she attended Camden School for Girls, then a selective grammar school, on Sandall Road in Kentish Town. Now Wikipedia may be wrong but I do know that her partner, one Alastair Campbell, went to a selective grammar school becasue he was in the year above me.

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