The University of Cambridge, one of the most highly-regarded universities in the world, has announced that it will bring back exams for admissions in all degree fields — much to the chagrin of applicants hoping to be awarded a place at the school based solely on the merits of their overall application.
The British government is planning to end a national exam, the AS-level, that provided mid-year scores for sixth-form students. But as Nick Collins reports in The Telegraph, Cambridge University foresees that removing this benchmark will complicate their application process.
Oxford and Cambridge Universities used to require their own entrance examinations, which applicants took in December prior to acceptance for enrollment the following October. These exams were phased out, since they discouraged some students from applying. The universal AS-level exam filled the void by providing scores before students had taken the final A-level exams. But without these scores, Cambridge says it will have a much harder time evaluating applicants.
Dr. Mike Sewell, Director of Admissions at Cambridge, said that they are still concerned about discouraging applicants by making the process more complicated.
“What we are concerned about is that any of the alternatives run the risk of putting good students off, doing the opposite of what A-levels do which is to encourage people who secure good grades half way through their A-levels to apply,” he said.
Students of mathematics have a mid-year exam called STEP, and this could be a model for Cambridge to follow. Whatever test Cambridge ends up with, Sewell said that:
“… it would have to be a very different examination to the one that was dropped in the 1980s.”
The shift comes at a time when higher education in the United Kingdom is facing serious challenges. Government policy regarding tuition has been controversial since Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition began, as a move that now allows universities to charge up to three times more than in the past has changed the higher education landscape in the country. Many universities have moved to charge the maximum allowed, including lesser-quality schools who fear that charging less will be a public admission of their status.
The number of students pursuing higher education in the UK has dropped this year, with some arguing that tuition policy is to blame.
Grade inflation has also plagued the country, as the number of ‘first’ degrees — the designation that signifies the highest level of academic achievement — has tripled over the last decade.
The University of Cambridge was founded in 1209 and is the second-oldest university in the English-speaking world.