Making a case for contextual offers - serious health issues

(37 Posts)
shockthemonkey Sun 29-May-16 10:32:54

One of my charges has bravely battled through three years of repeated hospitalisations and a heavy and prolonged treatment programme which is still ongoing now on an outpatient basis. He was in hospital pretty much full time from 2010 to 2014 during which time he sat part of his Baccalaureat through the online distance learning institution in France... then he returned to school and sat the rest of his exams to come out with a Bac ES with 12.5/20 -- this equates roughly to BBC-BBB in the UK.

He is applying to UK universities while also completing year 1 of an Economics and English programme at the Sorbonne. He wants to aim high, much higher than BBC unis as his reports at school were glowing and his grades inched up in his last year at school from around 12 when he came out of hospital to around 15.5 at the end of the year. But during his bac week he was undergoing more heavy treatment hence the low grade.

I am helping him put together a dossier to send his five chosen unis in the UK.. it includes a doctor's certificate stating that he was hospitalised from 2010 to 2014 and that he is nearing the end of a treatment programme which has taken a heavy toll physically and mentally. It also states that while in hospital his access to internet was very difficult making the CNED part of his education particularly challenging.

He also has reports from his school praising his courage and dedication.

Can you think of anything else that would help universities consider him even though his Bac grade is a long way off their typical offers? He is considering going for the likes of Warwick, St Andrew's, UCL... after first checking with them that they would give his case due consideration, and getting a neutral-to-positive reply.

He wants to aim high, quite reconciled with the idea of ending up in Extra or even Clearing if his first five turn him down.

OP’s posts: |
svalencia Sun 29-May-16 11:15:33

No experience of contextual offers but from our experience applying from France it was a real help talking to the person responsible for undergrad applications in the actual department rather than the admissions office. The general admissions office staff at some universities were very unhelpful and lacking in knowledge about non UK exams. We were asked by some Heads of Depts to send the current university Year 1 module list and exam results, which, if your charge has available, would presumably help to show that he has improved his marks since the Bac results and therefore his potential.

bojorojo Sun 29-May-16 11:23:22

Please do not think I am being unkind, but is it really the best idea to go to a university in the UK if you have health problems that have been treated in France for many years? (Is this correct?) I can quite understand why universities would be cautious. You are also looking at universities that are oversubscribed and they may not see him as a good proposition to complete the course or reach the required standard each year due to ill-health. Catching up and distance learning may well be impossible.

I would look at a variety of universities. Few people in his position (or indeed most students) would apply to five high flying selective universities. What might his choices be that require lower grades and are recruiting universities? Several of these need to be in the mix. The top universities may well wish to offer places to people they are more certain about and have nailed the entry requirements. Even a contextual offer usually only drops one grade - eg AAA to AAB for example. The universities you mention may even be A*AA to AAA.

I feel rather awful writing the above but I think a more realistic approach is necessary and I would not leave it to clearing if you need to talk, in detail, about health issues with a university. He will also get into difficulties regarding student accommodation if he goes through clearing. Lots of it will be gone and some universities will have nothing left. I am not sure this is a sensible idea at all. For someone who will need help on offer, from what you have described above, I would be very cautious in persuing the approach he wants.

Needmoresleep Sun 29-May-16 11:30:17

I am not an expert, but one idea might be to review how Universities consider mature students (an easy Google) or those with non traditional qualifications.

For example the LSE has an Undergraduate Admissions Assessment

Write early setting out the background and perhaps offer to take any alternative assessment. Universities have to treat everyone equally. If you can get him assessed via alternative methods, it might make it easier for them to accept him.

Also from reading this board, the French seem very fixated on a very small number of Universities. It is almost as if they see UK higher education as a very small number of "Grandes Ecoles", asnd discount the rest. An English student will see much or of a continuum. I would advise him to look closely at course contant, flexibility and staffing. Things like work placements,. mathematical content, and scope for courses outside the faculty or a year abroad, as well as the scope for personal enhancement, eg sports, music, societies. And cost.

To be honest you probably need a Masters for top economics jobs. For the others, it is arguable whether it is better to have a good first from a well respected University such as Bristol, Surrey or Nottingham and taking courses that appeal, or the brand name of somewhere like Warwick or UCL. If you step out of the small group of Univerities that attract the bulk of high quality EU/international applicants, presumably acceptance ratios will be higher. Not least because being French and adding diversity could be seen as an advantage whereas at UCL or similar it is nothing special.

Needmoresleep Sun 29-May-16 11:38:39

"Few people in his position (or indeed most students) would apply to five high flying selective universities"

Again I would question the advice your DDs school gave. DS was advised very specifically to apply for the top 4 courses in his subject. Some would have applicant to place ratios of over 10:1. Only one would interview, so it becomes a bit of a lottery. If you apply to all four, and you are strong candidate you should get one, but quite possibly not all four. And it is difficult to predict which one. The same seems to apply to medical school, drama school and other highly oversubscribed courses. This boy wants to get on the best course he can. His fall back is Extra or clearing (and given he is French, probably Canada, Holland, the US, Ireland and France). Beyond the top few, there ought to be a place if he can demonstrate he is intellectually capable, and well enough to cope with hard work.

shockthemonkey Sun 29-May-16 16:16:48

Thank you so much. Yes he realises contextual offers are normally one "tick" below typical offers, but he feels his situation is extremely unusual and having looked at what he's come through I tend to agree. So he thinks he should be considered even though his Bac result is two and a half points below some of these uni's typical offers.

Fair point about his health outlook: he is nearing the end of his treatment and is supposed to be putting it all behind him very soon, but I am not sure I could get the doctor to set this out in writing on his certificate.

Yes, sleep: the French kids are very much fixated on the top ten or so of UK schools, have a hard time getting their head around the university that may not be extremely high on international rankings but is very good for this or that course (eg Bath), and if they are imagining that Warwick for instance will be a Grande Ecole experience then they may be disappointed when they get there.

Really appreciate everyone's input and will re-examine with him the strategy he is dead set on taking in the light of some of your comments. Thanks for the link, sleep -- will take a look now.

OP’s posts: |
shockthemonkey Sun 29-May-16 16:19:01

oh and yes bojorojo, your words re pinning his hopes on extra or clearing in his case are spot-on. Another consideration.

OP’s posts: |


Bolograph Sun 29-May-16 16:26:23

If you are set in the most selective courses then Extra is irrelevant. You will only find recruiting universities in extra: does any RG university even accept such offers? And clearing will contain most universities but not all courses; choices in clearing are very limited if you are fussy both about subject and institution, and clearing is a quick and dirty business focused on grades, not circumstances.

whatwouldrondo Sun 29-May-16 17:35:56

You are also looking at universities that are oversubscribed and they may not see him as a good proposition to complete the course or reach the required standard each year due to ill-health. I am gladBojo you felt awful about writing the above because it would be awful and the reason that society has in fact deemed such behaviour unacceptable by making it illegal. I am not sure about the ins and outs of how the disabilitry discrimination law would apply to an EU student or whether this students illness would be covered but for sometime now the act has included various illnesses like Cancer (as well as of course Specific Learning Difficulties) . Universities are required not to discriminate against a student on the grounds of ill health, even if there is a chance of recurrence, but also to make reasonable adjustments to ensure they are enabled to study. Whatever the legal framework, in practise, as with Specific Learning Difficulties, universities are actually generally very proactive about meeting their moral obligation as manifested in the law for such students if they are able to, hence the neutral to positive response even without the full details. Generally when a student has already overcome adversity they are able to demonstrate they have the personal qualities including determination that provide them with more evidence that he will be able to complete the course than they would do with the 3As student who has sailed through an easier life at a private school, and indeed they do do better on average. I know a bit about this as before the disability legislation applied I suffered discrimination as a result of an illness which my employer took it upon themselves to decide would affect my chances of being effective in my role even though my treatment was finished. The courts still came down heavily in my favour even though I could only use the argument it was constructive dismissal and awarded me several years salary in compensation. So yes I think you should feel awful implying it is an issue in that way.

I would say that if there is a chance of ongoing health issues it would be wise to look into each universities rules on mitigating circumstances and how flexible they can be in making reasonable adjustments for ill health. Some of the London universities for instance have test heavy methods of assessment and limited room for manoeuvre on retakes etc. It is not unusual for student who is unable to sit an exam for health reasons not to be able to retake until the following year. Clearly universities that use other forms of assessment have more room for manoeuvre by extending deadlines etc.

whatwouldrondo Sun 29-May-16 19:12:32

And I would make sure his application emphasises evidence of his ability and personal qualities. Admissions Officers will be focusing their decision on evidence he has the ability, personal qualities and academic potential to complete the course. This is the relevant advice on the act from the Nottingham University website. "All applications from candidates who have disclosed a disability will be considered in the same way as any other application and a decision will be made that is based upon the candidate’s academic merit and potential."

whatwouldrondo Sun 29-May-16 20:44:53

I would also add that in my experience it seems as if the most selective universities are actually more likely to give an applicant who has faced this level of disadvantage due consideration. The rate of success in getting into the most selective universities, particularly Oxbridge, if you have an illness or Specific Learning Difficulties seems if anything actually greater. I have always assumed because people who have faced such challenge are less likely to apply, they have fewer chances to demonstrate their equality credentials, or that in applying in spite of their challenges, like this young person, they are demonstrating exceptional drive. A friend's daughter who applied to Oxford and UCL for medicine with a moderate learning difficulty found herself on the receiving end of displays of concern that they were not disadvantaging her which felt on the edge of patronising, especially when one interviewer asked if he could get her a comfier chair!

This is the UCL access document in which it states it's target to increase the " percentage of students disclosing a disability by 8% over the period 2016 - 2020 with an annual milestone of a 2% increase. Baseline for this target is UCL’s 2013/14 data of 7.2%." As evidence of the focus on providing equality of opportunity "7% of entrants to UCL declare a disability. Of particular concern are the numbers of D/deaf students entering UCL, which is currently less than 1% of new first years (nationally, 2% of young adults are thought to be deaf or hard of hearing). In the summer of 2014, UCL ran its first residential summer school for D/deaf and hard of hearing students. This will be repeated in the summer of 2015, alongside other activity to support disabled students. "

More anecdotally I know of at least one student who had a year out for Cancer treatment, and with the after effects of treatment throughout her final year and a couple of exams that she had to leave early in her finals gave up on her hopes of a first and then in spite of everything was awarded one. smile

whatwouldrondo Sun 29-May-16 20:50:11

Sorry link to the full UCL document.

I am also pretty sure that the joint London universities access scheme leaves room to relax the grade requirement for contextual offers down one across the board i.e BBB rather than AAA. I have certainly known that happen in cases of social disadvantage but you would get that advice from admissions officers.

I wish your student the success they deserve after all they have been through

whatwouldrondo Sun 29-May-16 20:51:55

Mumoftwoyoungkids Sun 29-May-16 20:54:37

Has he thought about Cambridge? Admissions are done by College which means that instead of selecting 200 to make offers to out of 2000 the admissions tutors are selecting 5 out of 50. Makes it much more likely that they will be able to look at him as an individual. (Maybe also Oxford but I don't understand their admissions process as I have no experience of it.)

Also - there are 30 colleges so he could have a ring around and find out which ones are more (and less!) sympathetic to his situation.

Mumoftwoyoungkids Sun 29-May-16 20:55:50

whatwould Cross posted with you. grin

esornep Sun 29-May-16 21:19:25

Admissions are done by College which means that instead of selecting 200 to make offers to out of 2000 the admissions tutors are selecting 5 out of 50. Makes it much more likely that they will be able to look at him as an individual.

If he is applying for Economics, he would need overwhelming evidence that he can cope with the overall level, particularly the maths content of the degree, for them to interview.

Typical offers for Economics at Cambridge are two A stars and an A, with an A star required in maths. Successful applicants often have 4 A levels with more than two A stars. Typical offers to French students would be very high, e.g. 17-18/20, with a specific high score in maths. He would really need to convince them that he could have scored in this range without his health circumstances.

FoggyBottom Sun 29-May-16 21:39:19

Is he recovered? Will he be able to stand the pace of a 3 year Hons degree in the UK? In another language? It's v different to a European university set up.

Why does't he take a break, get well, and then do his Bacc?

We can try to adjust for illness, but you know, sometimes people just aren't fit enough for study. Far far better to get fit & then apply.

DumbDailyMail Sun 29-May-16 21:44:24

Just an idea but what about a foundation course such as THIS ONE at Warwick. This one is for international students. I have no knowledge of them and don't know if he would even be eligible but I wonder if an extra 'foundation' year wouldn't be a bad idea anyhow.

Parietal Sun 29-May-16 21:55:37

i've briefly been involved in uni admissions, but this advice is based on 1 course at 1 uni - others may differ.

we read many UCAS forms with detailed contextual info and complex back-stories, but VERY VERY rarely dropped more than 1 grade below the standard offer. This is because it is almost impossible to tell how a student will do on a demanding uni course if they haven't shown they can get at least some of the right grades in their school career. Also, some students have just missed too much at previous stages. It may not be the student's fault, but the university can't fill in all the teaching they might have missed at school. Sorry.

I'd recommend this student to take a gap year / retake something / do a foundation or do something to prove on paper that he can do the academic work. That could be a better option than a set of unrealistic applications and rejections.

Bolograph Sun 29-May-16 21:56:57

It's worth noting that (a) you can now get SLC funding for a "foundation year plus three years" degree and (b) progression from a foundation year to the first year of the main degree is, in most universities, a progression decision (Ie, provided you don't actively fail you progress) rather than an admission decision. This means that entry requirements for foundation years are rising, and they are (in selective universities) now more intended for people who have sufficient grades but in the wrong subjects, rather than for students with lower grades or other issues.

whatwouldrondo Sun 29-May-16 22:05:56

He is doing and presumably coping with Year 1 of an English and Economics programme at the Sorbonne which seems a reasonable alternative to prepare for study in the UK. He has when not hospitalised achieved well and presumably now he isn't hospitalised has resumed that level of achievement. I am sure OP can fill in more detail, and it will be provided to tutors but I do wonder why the very mention of illness and gruelling treatment provokes all these assumptions? Having been through chemo it is not that different to subjecting yourself to a monthly Wednesday night binge drinking session in the union bar, you feel shit for a few days but the body has amazing powers of recovery, the mind is another thing but what you need to recover is to be treated as normal and given the chance to get on with your life. You may all be right with your reservations but from OP has told us that is not at all clear.

FoggyBottom Sun 29-May-16 22:22:29

This is because it is almost impossible to tell how a student will do on a demanding uni course if they haven't shown they can get at least some of the right grades in their school career

Yes, this. We get quite concerned about this. We also have a policy of 'Fit to Study.' If the applicant is now well, then he needs to show how he can step up. It's tough, but for the sort of places he's aiming for, there will be many equally deserving & talented applicants.

whatwouldrondo Mon 30-May-16 00:22:31

Well he has proven he can get the grades when circumstances were not against him. As I say it is for OPto help him provide the evidence though it sad to see it is a case of guilty until proven innocent at some universities once you have been diagnosed with a serious illness. That is not the point of the legislation, it is to ensure that students are accepted on academic merit and then make sure that it will be possible for them to achieve with reasonable adjustment unless there are exceptional circumstances. For this candidate to get where he has he has already shown considerably greater determination than "equally determined and talented applicants" so universities should, and in my experience,do recognise that. I am honestly a bit shocked and hmm about these responses, there is a very clear process for this to ensure no discrimination, and these responses sail very close to failing to ensure that

whatwouldrondo Mon 30-May-16 00:24:31

Equally deserving NOT equally determined

bojorojo Mon 30-May-16 00:32:44

So, ron, "Fit to Study" is not illegal as you suggested. I do not understand why your responses towards me are aggressive. Sadly, at the moment the academic merit is short. I think had the student got the necessary grades then there would be a different response. It is not discrimination to turn a student down who has not achieved the grades. It is discrimination to turn a student down who, with everything else being equal, is disabled.

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