Willets: Top UK Unis Should Prioritize Poor Applicants

The UK Universities Minister, David Willetts, has claimed that universities should look beyond grades to actively provide for the brighter students with poor grades from state schools by giving them a place over better qualified students and then allowing them a foundation year to catch up.

His comments come as his budget for reforms providing increased access to university has risen for the third year running to a record total of £900m for the academic year 2012/13.

The Russell Group, a group of elite universities in the UK, has already explained that its decline in admissions of state pupils from deprived background fell in 2010/11 because of reduced applications and not enough students meeting entry requirements, and instituted a system fast-tracking the brightest state school children by having their schools nominate a ‘Dux’.

Critics will claim that this represents a ‘giving up’ by the government of aims to improve the standard of education for poorer children so they get better results and entry to university on merit; that this latest announcement is a social engineering patch to a problem they lack the will or ability to fix, however Willetts denies this:

“What we all want to see is not social engineering – and certainly not quotas – but quite simply genuine meritocracy,” he said. “Because entry to our universities is a competitive process, with more applicants than there are places, there has to be a serious sorting exercise.”

Mr Willetts added that admissions “can be based on more than just A-level results, by looking at all the information that indicates the potential of an individual to succeed”.

The comments show that Mr Willetts doesn’t feel current efforts at widening university access for students from deprived backgrounds go far enough, despite almost 23% of institutions now offering tiered entry requirements, whereby students from poor backgrounds have to meet lower A-level requirements to get accepted.
Mr Willetts had praised a scheme by King’s College London which already provides the foundation year for prospective medical students with poor A-levels and this appears to be the model he wishes to be adopted by other universities and classes.

“We know, at the end of the day, that their chances of getting a good medical degree are as good as those who turn up with three As,”