Oxford rejects blacklists for “soft” A levels

Oxford University has refused to follow Cambridge and the London School of Economics in drawing up so-called ‘blacklists’ for ‘soft’ A levels such as media studies and dance. Cambridge University recommends that applicants do not take more than one subject from a list of 20 A levels, including accounting and tourism. The London School of Economics similarly runs a list of 14 “non-preferred subjects”, such as law. Oxford breaks A levels into three categories for a particular course: essential, recommended and helpful, but does not ‘blacklist’ any subjects. An Oxford University spokesperson explained that, “There is no list of A levels which says if you study these A levels you can’t study at Oxford but there is a recommended list. If people apply for courses where they haven’t got the recommended A levels it is harder to compete.” The Russell Group of top UK universities has been critical of so-called ‘soft subjects’, and has suggested that pupils at state schools taking a large number of them at A level are put at a disadvantage.Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, stated on the group’s website, “It is difficult for admissions tutors to choose between such excellent candidates. Students must not disadvantage themselves by choosing a combination of subjects at A Level which will not equip them as well as other subjects to excel on their chosen course, or which do not demonstrate as effectively as others their aptitude for a particular subject.“Clearly if pupils from certain state schools are increasingly taking a combination of subjects which put them at a disadvantage in competing for a course at a Russell Group university, the task of widening participation in our universities becomes even more difficult,” she added. Russell Group research found that 93% of media studies candidates were from non-selective state schools even though such schools only account for 74% of A levels in total, leading to suggestions that comprehensives are using such subjects to boost pupils’ grades.A statement on the Oxford University Admissions Department website said that admission was more focused on academic potential than subject choice.“Providing that any specific subject requirements have been met, all A levels are approved for admissions purposes, with the exception of General Studies.“Providing that you meet any specific requirements for your course, we recommend you to take those subjects that interest you most and in which you feel you have the ability to do best. Apart from the specific requirements shown, tutors are much more interested in candidates’ overall academic ability, and their potential and motivation for the course at Oxford, than the particular programmes which have been followed at school.”by Rob Pomfret