Birmingham uni - A levels not required

(57 Posts)
creamteas Fri 08-Mar-13 19:33:04

Birmingham university has started to make unconditional offers to some students on the basis of their AS levels and A2 predictions. This means that if a student didn't actually bother to take their A2s, they would get a place ahead of someone who just slipped a grade! The reports are that this is only for some subjects and the students have to have As at As and be predicted A*AA.

My uni are shock and I have real concerns about the differential impact, given that some schools are more likely to predict high grades that others.

I also think it is a bit strange that an uni that has pretend elite status would do this especially as it in subjects which do not have any other way of gauging the suitability of applicants such as interviews.

I know they really struggled to fill their places last year, and I'm guessing they wouldn't have done this if their applications for 2013 entry were strong.

Lilymaid Fri 08-Mar-13 19:48:38

Unconditional offers pre-A2 may be new but matriculation offers of 2 Es have been offered by Oxford and Cambridge for decades. Good A2 scores are important for job applications. Students who are likely to achieve A*AA are not likely to slack off after accepting such an offer as it is not in their long term interests. Is your university somewhere like Bristol, Warwick or Nottingham where applicants of similar calibre are likely to apply and might be swayed by such an offer?

tiredemma Fri 08-Mar-13 19:52:50

Does bham uni have 'pretend' elite status?

creamteas Fri 08-Mar-13 20:08:16

Lily yes Oxford and Cambridge used to do this, but on the basis of exam and interview. This move will impact on unis across the board. If unis with similar offers lose most of their students to Birmingham, then they will drop their entry grades during clearing, take applicants with less then their current advertised grades from other unis and so on.

tired Birmingham might be an RG uni, but in many subject ares it has quite a poor reputation.

lougle Fri 08-Mar-13 20:15:27

Surely you are at liberty to also offer unconditional offers, though?

creamteas Fri 08-Mar-13 20:34:28

Yes, but we would never want to do so.

AS grades are not always a good measure of A2 grades. Many applicants do well at AS, then badly in A2, and others do badly at AS and really work hard to get their grades up. So it is unfair to applicants to use AS grades as the main criteria for entry.

Also as I said before, two applicants with similar results at GCSE and AS will have very different predictions depending on the policy at their school. Some schools refuse to predict A*s, and it would be unfair to discriminate against applicants on this basis.

MariscallRoad Fri 08-Mar-13 22:12:18

Cream u raise is an interesting issue which is worth discussing.

Previously the studs were the applicants who were the many and the university places were in short supply. But the grade inflation was the issue and was not fixed and was left till too late...

If universities are unable to fill all the places they need then it is not good for them

Thanks to very poorly re-structuring educational changes and also due to the abrupt hardening of A level, due to the added top grade A*, due to the increased level of offers with A*s.. etc , it is like pressing all the pedals to get an aircraft under control so it is likely you spin out of control. Then you gotta deal with the aftermath of it and now it is the students who set terms.

The unconditional based on AS grade is not safe thing, I agree with you, but the unis may have little choice when they need to fill places. They also have to cover the cost of filling students gaps knowledge left by the school. This gap was created by slimmed down sylabuses: Maths was particularyl slimmed 10 ys ago.

loads of things have not gone the right direction...

creamteas Fri 08-Mar-13 22:56:44

Maris grade inflation is not the issue.

In previous years universities had strict number controls, so there was a shortage of places because successive governments did not want to pay universities the money to take unlimited students. Universities were fined for over-recruitment leading to usually a cautious approach in offering places. These strict number controls have been partially lifted.

At the same time they transferred most of the (end) cost of university education to students causing a massive increase in fees and a serious decline in the numbers of students wanting to go to university.

In this new 'market', universities are completing for survival and this could mean a very raw deal for students. Rapid expansion could lead to growing class sizes whilst decline could mean the axing of programmes (when this happens, the good staff often move rapidly but students already studying are stuck for 2 or 3 years in a shrinking dept.

Whilst in the long-term things will probably stabilise, for the next few years it could be a rough ride for everybody (and not just the unis at the bottom of league tables).

Jinsei Fri 08-Mar-13 23:14:57

It will definitely be a rough ride for HE over the next few years. It's depressing to see how much other countries are investing in this area just as our own government is withdrawing funding. sad

The Birmingham strategy sounds quite risky but I guess they have made the calculation that they can't afford to under-recruit again, and so they are going to live with that risk.

It may not work for them though. They might just end up as the insurance option for lots of students who will go elsewhere if they get the grades!

MariscallRoad Sat 09-Mar-13 00:23:23

cream The high fees are indeed unfair deal for students. I look at the Guardian stats: The number of applicants is down since 2010 by 12 thousand people here This I presume is mainly a consequence of high fees deterring students. Added to this bad is that some universities did not fill places because grades were not achieved. This was a surprise to m e. Surely the lowered grades are because the exams were tough despite the syllabus remaining the same. It may be that some schools - due to cuts - did not prepare adequately the young people for the exams. There are universities advertising bursaries and other advantages for the students they want to attract. Some of These universities offering cash may have cash already though. I have seen some big corporations offering bursaries to students in specified degrees. So there is competition.

NewFerry Sat 09-Mar-13 07:43:40

We have a friend who works at Ucas. At Christmas she ws telling me that they have seen a massive increase in the number if unconditional offers being made this year.
Tbh, as her DC are younger so she hasn't gone through this process herself, and because I hadn't heard or read anything similar, I pretty much ignored her/thought she was mistaken.
My mistake then. Maybe she was totally correct, and that a number of unis have been doing this?

NewFerry Sat 09-Mar-13 07:52:03

As an aside, I've just looked at the Ucas course search for this year for mech eng, virtually every uni still has places. Sheffield is the notable exception, with no places at all available.

2 years ago when ds1 applied, virtually none of the big unis still had places on practically all their mech eng courses at this point.

creamteas Sat 09-Mar-13 11:08:10

Newferry last year it seemed that lots of applicants withdrew from UCAS rather than accept a place through clearing (because A level results were down, there were an increased number of students that did not get into either their firm or insurance).

We are certainly seeing a rise in applications from people who already have their A level results, so we are giving out more unconditional offers. But Birmingham is the first uni as far as I know that is giving out unconditional offers on the expectation of future results rather than on grades already achieved.

This year UCAS decided not to publish their usual January Report on applications, so whilst the detailed figures are not their, it certainly feels like that nationally many unis are struggling to fill places. Where I work the picture is very mixed, so some courses have higher numbers, some about the same, and some really poor. But it is difficult to ascertain a bigger pattern, so for example, some engineering options are doing well but not all and politics is up but business is down in social sciences.

But surely they are not expecting students not to 'bother' taking A2s, and would any school let students do that, given they also care about the rankings?

I've no connection to Birmingham but I don't think it's pretending to elite status, some of the research they do is brilliant and I know ex-Birmingham students who were amazing, too.

I understand your concerns about predictions not being accurate and AS grades not always being a good predicter, but I'd be interested to hear why they think they're doing it.

Trills Sat 09-Mar-13 11:17:44

I'd be interested to hear more about how well AS grades predict A2 grades, and (if the answer is "poorly" why we think that is).

I agree with LRD and others who have said that there is very little chance that anyone will "not bother" to take their exams or to work for them.

Not an answer, just me banging on because it's my pet thing, but I do reckon AS grades are particularly bad predictors for some groups of students. If someone has a learning disability, it can be really hard to work out what they will do well in and what they won't. You can find that someone who struggled hugely with 11 GCSE subjects does better with 5 ASs in the subjects they're good at, and you can find they make unexpectedly rapid progress once they get down to the subjects they're good at. I think there is a pattern here - I don't have stats, but I do have lots of anecdotal examples, where someone with a learning disability gets so-so GCSEs, better ASs, and good A Levels.

But that may be something Birmingham are well aware of, as they have a reputation for being quite good with support for LDs.

boomting Sat 09-Mar-13 11:39:01

This is bonkers, and isn't going to do much for Birmingham's reputation if they're just desperately trying to get bums on seats.

If the normal response to having too many applicants is to raise the grade requirements, surely the logical response to having too few students is to lower the grade requirements? I don't believe that there is a substantial difference in the academic calibre of someone who got AAA vs AAB or even ABB.

On a wider scale, and if it turns out that this trend doesn't reverse itself, then if may be time for some of the universities that focus on teaching but can't find enough students to teach to close.

creamteas Sat 09-Mar-13 11:47:32

They are obviously expecting the students to take their A2s and do well. But there are a variety of reasons why that might not happen.

If you don't actually need the grades to get to your first choice uni, then you might not put this above other things going on in your life (this could be for reasons such as a bereavement or theatre performance, but it could also be your boyfriend/girlfriend.).

I'm sure many MN parents would be horrified at the attitude of many first year undergrads who don't turn up for classes and do the minimum work as the first year of uni 'doesn't count'. They then spend the next two years desperately trying to catch up with the theories they should have studied in year 1!

Bright but lazy students often do not work if they don't have to. At an RG uni I worked at previously until the system was changed, some very able mathematicians who could get 100% on some papers, didn't bother taking other final year papers because they worked out that they would still probably get a 2:1 overall.

So yes, I do think it is entirely possible that some DC might not bother.

jennybeadle Sat 09-Mar-13 11:51:45

How do you think this varies from Scottish Unis offering unconditionals based on Highers achieved?

I guess I see that cream. I'm not sure, just wondering - but is that so bad? I mean, these are students who will have been doing exams for years, and who will then go to university and do exams for more years. It's really stressful. A friend of mine has a daughter doing Higher's at the moment who's had to go to her GP because she is so conscientious she is working too hard.

I slightly wonder if students who were not under immense pressure in the upper sixth might do better in their first year at university.

I know it isn't the same, but when I knew people who had unconditional offers, my feeling wasn't that they suddenly stopped working and got Bs instead of As, but rather that they stopped feeling as if they were under huge pressure and calmed down a bit.

I am amused about the mathematicians, btw. grin

I think the university might have predicted that!

creamteas Sat 09-Mar-13 12:13:35

LRD yes it is of course much more likely that they will take their exams.

But I still thinks it is extremely unfair to the students who worked really hard to get slightly lower AS grades up, to potentially have students who didn't need to even still their A2s to get places ahead of them.

If Birmingham had announced that they were changing their entry decision requirements to AS grades in general, then this would be ok. But to judge some applicants on AS and others on A2 does not seem right to me.

Anecdotally, the Jan module results seem to be down again. So they could end up with a whole bunch of students that are at risk of not making the usual entry grades going to them (especially as they will not then need to do any resits in the summer) and those who are still on course for their 3As going elsewhere!

I don't follow how it is unfair - is it any more unfair than to have students who get As accepted and students who worked really hard to get Bs not accepted?

I can see it might be unfair, I'm just not absolutely sure it is, if that makes sense? Do we know how they plan to assess AS grades and grade predictions?

I do see what you're saying, I'm just not quite as convinced as you.

creamteas Sat 09-Mar-13 13:00:46

There does not seem to be any public information as to how they are deciding who does nor does not get an unconditional offer, but then other than usual entry grades, it is not usual to give this information anyway.

Judging people on the same level of qualification (A, B etc) is different to judging people on different levels of qualification (A2, AS).

I'd also be nervous that treating applicants differently like this could be a potential area of indirect discrimination. But I'm guessing that they they will run their data about relative performance at AS and predictions of different groups of students before going down this road.

Yes, I can see there's a lot to worry about. And I do understand that judging people on the same level of qualification is different from judging on levels of the same one - but it must always be tough to differentiate between a student who's made a lot of progress but started from a low level at AS/GCSE, and a student who's gone steadily all the way through.

ILikeBirds Sat 09-Mar-13 13:14:00

I thought this sort of thing has always gone on. I know people who had two E offers to go to Oxbridge (and this was from a state school background).

In the current system can you keep an unconditional offer in reserve?

Universities used to be able to see what other places you'd applied to, I know the university I went to used to give higher offers to those who'd applied to Oxbridge on the basis that they didn't want their offer to be used as a reserve. If you can't keep an unconditional offer in reserve then maybe this is something similar?

NewFerry Sat 09-Mar-13 13:14:17

Creamteas - thanks, thats very interesting ref the students applying who already have their results and confirmed what I had thought was probably the case.

I think I read that unis could take (practically) unlimited numbers of AAB students last year, is that the case this year, or has this changed?

Also, I too would be interested to know whether the Jan A2 results are down, given DS did very badly in one of his modules scoring a C when he had been scoring 90%+ on mock papers

MariscallRoad Sat 09-Mar-13 13:24:07

Cream Birminham requires 2 sorts of entry requirements. The general ones which include 3 A Levels - or other kinds - so one must do them; and also the ’specific entry requirements’ for the chosen course and I understand the issue is there. However, a student who does not perform well in A2 but already has an unconditional they would struggle from the start of the academic course; and I ve known some universities to offer good support to those students with extra tuition so as to avoid dropping off.. So if one has difficulty they expect to sort it. What we parents find most unfair is 9K, fee which rose to that level at once.

Birmingham is in the QS 100 top list and has v good rep.

creamteas Sat 09-Mar-13 13:27:30

Ilike yes some unis used to make unconditional offers but usually only when a separate entrance exam and/or interview had taken place. As far as I know, no, you only get an unconditional offer if Birmingham is your firm. And no, at this point in time, universities can't see where else applicants have applied to.

New last year AAB+ students were deemed to be outside of student number controls and this is changing to ABB+.

Last year went badly wrong for many of the top unis because the number of students getting AAB+ dropped and it was not possible to fill the places with students of lower grades as they then would be fined by the government (HEFCE worked out the number of AAB+ students expected and deducted these places from universities, but had obviously not talked to Gove/Ofqual who are on a mission to reduce grades).

webwiz Sat 09-Mar-13 13:28:12

There is a thread on the studentroom about this, the students seem a bit wary of accepting the offers though:
www.thestudentroom.co.uk/showthread.php?t=2274119

Also there's a telegraph article
www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/9913795/Top-university-awards-places-irrespective-of-final-A-levels.html

For Maths you need to be predicted A* A* A* which a lot of schools would be reluctant to predict. Also if you were predicted that Birmingham wouldn't be the natural choice of university to study at. For the unconditional offer you need to put Birmingham as your first choice so they may pick up some risk averse students who would normally have had them as a back up choice as best.

ILikeBirds Sat 09-Mar-13 13:30:05

Do they not interview either then? I had interviews for all the universities I'd applied to

MariscallRoad Sat 09-Mar-13 13:31:41

NewFerry, An exam performance involves for some students stress and might produce different results than those of a mock test where the student might feel differently. Not all students though are the same or feel the same.

webwiz Sat 09-Mar-13 13:32:29

Quite rare to be interviewed these days ILikeBirds - just for some courses eg medicine

creamteas Sat 09-Mar-13 13:36:55

Birmingham is in the QS 100 top list and has v good rep

Like all unis, the reputation overall doesn't mean anything about the quality of teaching in different subject areas. It certainly does not have a good reputation in my subject area. It is also currently in the middle of an dispute over redundancies, with potential strike action, so is not necessarily a good place to either work or study at the minute.

FellNel Sat 09-Mar-13 13:37:44

I was just about to say exactly what lily said in the very first response!

It sounds to me, if they're asking AA*A predictions, as if they are trying to cream off excellent students before they're snapped up elsewhere?

FWIW, in my subject Birmingham has a great reputation - it does vary a lot, I'm sure. I can imagine this might be a poor idea for students studying something Birmingham isn't great for, but might be good for, say, someone who is tossing up between Oxbridge with a tough offer, or early certainty here.

FellNel Sat 09-Mar-13 13:43:37

I know what creamteas means about Birmingham. My son got an offer from them for BBB, but all his other offers were for AAB. He choose a two non RG universities over Bham in the end, because they both had a better reputation by far, for his specific degree.

MariscallRoad Sat 09-Mar-13 13:46:48

I also agree that some students get they As easily and some others work strenuously to get Bs. And perhaps the grades of some students does not tell much about their academic ability/aptitude for a course and neither tells us the difficulties they encountered in school or learning or other... Perhaps The grading system is not meant to grade ability allways. Some universities know this and use a load of their own testing for selection.

I have a DS in y12 and was under the impression that uni offers were based on AS results - have I got this wrong?
Wasn't there a fuss recently when Michael Gove was threatening to abolish AS levels altogether and return to A levels taken at the end of year 13? If I recall the universities were against the idea because they believed that AS results were a more accurate measure of ability than teacher prediction?

creamteas Sat 09-Mar-13 14:34:57

secret Uni offers are made looking at grades achieved so far, but have usually always been on the basis of A2 results. In other words your offer is conditional on you achieving certain grades in your A2s.

In this case, Birmingham's offers are unconditional, that is if they are accepted, they can attend regardless of their A2 results.

Thanks creamteas.

MariscallRoad Sat 09-Mar-13 15:31:41

Bhm says 'Pupils taking up maths places must be predicted to score three elite A* grades'. Now, this is a hard condition to achieve.
Not all elite universities teach every course perfect in all degrees. A lot of things might make a difference in the decisions of parents and students where to study -not just the status. for example B advertise v well themselves how well they support students: they offer a mentor all to all students not just those with specific needs. That makes a difference in the study.

titchy Sat 09-Mar-13 15:39:24

The proposal to not have AS as an interim qual for a levels is for current year 9 cohort so you should be ok secret!

Creamteas - Hefce intend to redistribute the number control for 14/15 based on 13/14 intake numbers so maybe that's why Bham is takin this approach? Also interesting is the fee charged by one of the new unis Bedford maybe? Half price if you pay up front!

There are crappy departments in all universities.

webwiz Sat 09-Mar-13 15:46:14

For Maths any students with those sorts of predictions would be looking at the universities with the best reputations for Maths and Birmingham certainly is not considered as on a par with Oxbridge/Imperial/Warwick/Durham/Bath. The only way that Birmingham would have applications of that calibre is if they are a 4th or 5th choice university or if someone doesn't have further maths which will make it difficult to get into one the top universities listed.

I think one university acting in a unilateral way like this distorts things a bit and means that students may make a decision that isn't the best for them in the long run.

fussychica Sat 09-Mar-13 16:35:20

When DS applied to B'ham 2 years ago- the last year of low fees - he was given an low offer well below the standard entry requirement without interview, although at the time they stated they always interviewed for his subject area. It didn't make him change his first choice and he rejected the place. They seemed miffed and unlike the other Uni's he rejected they followed it up, which was suprising.

Similarly, in this case it appears a number of the students who have received these offers are very wary of accepting because they a fairly sure they can meet their offers from what were/are their preferred Uni.

I don't think B'ham are sending the right signals to the students or about their establishment but they obviously feel there is a need to do this to try to secure numbers. Looking at the subjects concerned and the student room comments I don't think other uni's have much to be concerned about.

MariscallRoad Sat 09-Mar-13 22:10:06

web it is hard to get a place in the colleges you mentioned even with 3xA*s. A grades are not sufficient. Some universities require their own maths/physics test to be taken followed by test at interview. About half to 3/4 in certain cases might pass the test but fewer of those are likely pass the interview. There re people with with A*s who did not apply to a university bec of the cost. But is poss that there are those who would put the place as a top choice.

webwiz Sat 09-Mar-13 23:44:32

But if you are predicted 3A* you should be targeting the top universities for your subject. Maths has high entry requirements and can include extra exams like STEP but it isn't so hard to get into that a good mathematician will end up be rejected by lots of courses (unless of course you only apply to the absolute top unis).

DD2 didn't actually consider Birmingham so I don't know anything about Maths there but if you were a top student it would be an insurance type choice rather than a firm.

I'm sure there'll be a rush of applications to Birmingham next year with people hoping for the unconditional offers rather than receiving them unexpectedly like they have this year.

I can imagine if you were someone who gets very nervous about exams, you might find Birmingham's offer attractive enough not to want to go to the slightly better places, though. People are different in terms of how they feel - every year some students will decide to go for a course they're technically over-qualified for, or will decide not to apply for places they might be able to get into, because they don't want to go. Maybe that's what Birmingham is hoping for?

MariscallRoad Sun 10-Mar-13 10:27:32

Web I do not disagree with you that people with 'predicted' A*s should look at Oxbridge and the colleges you mention. Success rate though, at Ox for example, is about 18 pc. The rest should look for a safe alternative.

It appears Bhm’s hopes to attract are realistic: a % of A* predictions and offers in maths were not achieved in one uni mentioned; so these applicants need to have another place to go. Many candidates become aware that it is very hard to study in some of these unis. Their exams are v stressful and system is different from the rest . Some students feel this is not where they would want to study even if they have the grades. Still they can study well elsewhere and get a good degree. Finally, I agree some people can get nervous of exams. Stress affects performance in some.

webwiz Sun 10-Mar-13 13:29:51

I agree that if you find the exam process stressful an unconditional offer is very tempting, but to get a prediction of 3A* you must already be doing pretty well within the exam system.

True.

BackforGood Sun 10-Mar-13 13:46:50

I cetainly know of people offered "2 Es" in the 70s and 80s - not just at Oxford and Cambridge where there were separate tests, but all sorts of places.
I was also at a Parents' Talk last week, and representatives from 2 Universities (neither of which was Birmingham) talked about offering students they really wanted, unconditional offers (essentially, still 2 Es, as there is a basic requirement to enter University at all), as they found it meant that some students would put them as their 'first choice' and be more relaxed taking the final exams. I don't have a problem with it and it wouldn't be my ds in that cohort.
Not sure why you are so 'down' on Birmingham - all Universities have some departments which are weaker / better than others. You seem to have some personal axe to grind ?

fraktion Sun 10-Mar-13 14:03:07

Unconditional pre-A2 offers have existed for years. I had 2 back in 2003 and one was from Bham. They used to do it to snaffle the people Oxbridge rejected in my subject.

If they're implementing it as a wider 'policy' they're probably hoping to perform the same cleanup manoeuvre.

MariscallRoad Sun 10-Mar-13 15:26:59

Bhm’s unconditional offer would make sense of ‘fair access’ if it includes persons from disadvantaged backgrounds to give them a chance . This report from Sutton Trust is challenging a lot of thinking about ed; they say: "in a quarter of English sixth forms and colleges not a single student achieved the A-level grades needed to go to one of our leading universities” Probably Bhm has a point here.

webwiz Sun 10-Mar-13 16:00:20

yes but they aren't making unconditional offers to students to give them a chance, they are making offers to students who's schools expect them to achieve way over Birmingham's entry requirements. So its nothing to do with widening participation and is more about tempting top students away from other universities.

creamteas Sun 10-Mar-13 16:42:26

Given that in my experience (looking at hundreds of UCAS forms) very few state schools predict A* this also is likely to mean that they are giving private school applicants preferential treatment.

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