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In a week when the government reshuffled its cabinet, HE issues that made headlines gave the newly-appointed universities minister a taste of things to come, says Stephen Isherwood, Chief Executive of the Institute of Student Employers .
The past week’s events and news are a sign of turbulent times for UK universities, warns Nicola Owen, Deputy Chief Executive (Operations) at Lancaster University.
Mike Ratcliffe, academic registrar at Nottingham Trent University, reflects on issues emerging from a packed week of higher education news.
The Office of the Independent Adjudicator for higher education has reported almost a 21 per cent rise in the number of complaints it received from students last year – rising to their highest ever level at 2,371.
State school students achieve better degrees than their privately educated peers, a new study has concluded.
The research by Cambridge Assessment, a department of the University of Cambridge, draws the same conclusions as a report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England which controversially was forced to admit this week that it had got its figures wrong.
HEFCE has drawn fire from academics and independent school heads after stating that while figures in its report suggesting state school students outperform those that went to private school were the wrong way around, the overall conclusion was the same.
The latest study, which has just been published in the Oxford Review of Education Research by Cambridge Assessment, confirms that state school pupils are likely to do better at university than independent school pupils with similar A Level results.
Researchers Carmen Vidal Rodeiro and Nadir Zanini were investigating how effective the A* grade at A Level is as a predictor of university performance. A finding confirmed previous studies about the divide between the performance of state and independent school students at university.
Dr Vidal Rodeiro said: “In both Russell and non-Russell Group universities, students from independent schools were less likely to achieve either a first class degree or at least an upper second class degree than students from comprehensive schools with similar prior attainment”.
The researchers note how previous research has suggested two reasons for the finding - private school students may have lower incentives to perform well at university and therefore may invest more effort in social life rather than academic work; or they may have been ‘coached’ at school and subsequently struggle when they get to university.
The main focus of the research was into how effective the A* at A Level is as a predictor of university performance. The researchers found that the number of A* grades is a good predictor of achieving a First or at least an Upper Second degree in both Russell and non-Russell Group universities. They also found that the A* was a good predictor of success in specific degree subjects. An A* in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths at A Level was a good predictor of success not only in science-orientated degrees but also in other degrees such as social sciences or creative arts.
The researchers say their work highlights the importance of a grading system that allows greater differentiation among students, as it can be beneficial for effective and fair Higher Education (HE) admissions, particularly on the most oversubscribed courses. A pilot of a Grade Point Average overseen by the Higher Education Academy is currently being adopted by a range of universities across the sector.
On November 18 the Cambridge Assessment Network will host a seminar on the effectiveness of the HE admissions system in England by Richard Partington, Senior Tutor of Churchill College, Cambridge.
He said: “We now know that the achievement of A* grades at A Level indicates high potential for university success right across the UK Higher Education sector, not just Cambridge University. This information will be of great value to admissions tutors everywhere, emphasising once again that university entry is valid when it is conditional upon achieved exam results.”
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