A Cherwell investigation last week revealed that 40% off all those who missed conditional offers last year still took up places at Oxford University.
The question we must be asking is whether or not this brute fact alone reduces the value of conditional offers, and of entry requirements? I would argue that whether or not it does is irrelevant. Oxford University is famed for its rigorous admissions process – where else other than Cambridge do you spend three days being subjected to a series of interviews?
For every place offered, over five students apply, and the vast majority of these are high-performing academic students. As such, it is evident, and it has always been so: good grades simply aren’t enough. One must pass every hurdle in the rigorous admissions process, from the entrance examination (the wounds of which may still be fresh for Freshers) to the interviews themselves.
Indeed, in the process of applying you pass tests on unknown topics, read and are quizzed on entirely new information. You meet and are forced to interact with tutors (who themselves are experts in their field). All of these things together combine to demonstrate one’s suitability for a place at Oxford, based on both academic merit and genuine passion and commitment.
Arguably therefore, missing the grade requirements by one or two grades does not suddenly make a student unfit for Oxford, because they have previously demonstrated time and time again that they are.
For instance, a student that has missed their entry requirements for PPE, achieving say AAB instead of the required AAA, may also have achieved in the high 80s in their entry test, making them, based on this metric, the crème de la crème of all applicants.
Indeed, Oxford places greatest emphasis on its own admissions tests, with the commonly held belief being that performance in these tests are a greater indicator of their end outcome in Finals.
This is primarily because although there is some opportunity to be pre-taught and to be tutored to do well in these tests, these examine the natural aptitude at certain skills such as problem solving or critical thinking. These skills are far harder to receive tutoring for than for say A levels, for instance.
As such, these tests are less likely to bias wealthy applicants, and using these as a primary measure is likely to be more conducive to leveling the playing field.
Notably, lots of factors can affect someone’s performance in exams. It is impossible to plan
for events like bereavements, mental health problems, relationship breakdowns, or illnesses, all of which may cause a person to perform below their true potential and cause them to slightly miss their grade requirements.
In relation to this, the average state comprehensive is unlikely to be able to provide the same pastoral support and guidance when a student is faced with mental health problems, for instance. This is primarily because of a difference in resources available.
The Freedom of Information (FoI) request sent by Cherwell notably revealed that 76.2% of students who didn’t meet their conditional offer went to state schools, which make up 57.7% of the total Oxford intake. As such, it is clear that state school students are disproportionately likely to miss their entry requirements, and as such are disproportionately likely to be affected by the imposition of such an arbitrary measure as grade requirements.
The University itself notes that ‘students with genuine mitigating circumstances will be in state schools’ and to say that students who don’t meet their entry requirements face a blanket rejection fails to consider factors external to the individual student that may have affected their performance.
We must not place so much emphasis on entry requirements, for to do so fails to widen participation, and may even mean that the University fails to attract the best students, regardless of where they are from.