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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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Sat 09-Mar-13 11:14:31

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Sat 09-Mar-13 11:21:24

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?

LRDtheFeministDragon Sat 09-Mar-13 11:57:12

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Sat 09-Mar-13 11:58:06

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!

LRDtheFeministDragon Sat 09-Mar-13 12:28:07

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.

LRDtheFeministDragon Sat 09-Mar-13 13:06:05

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.

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