Bach­e­lor’s bingo?

UK elite ‘should adopt ad­mis­sions lot­tery’

THE (Times Higher Education) - - FRONT PAGE - anna.mckie@timeshigh­ere­d­u­ca­

Ad­mis­sions to the UK’s most se­lec­tive uni­ver­si­ties should be de­ter­mined by lot­ter­ies among stu­dents who pass a grade thresh­old, lead­ing ed­u­ca­tion­al­ists say in a new book.

Lee El­liot Ma­jor, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Sut­ton Trust, and Stephen Machin, pro­fes­sor of eco­nomics at the Lon­don School of Eco­nomics, ar­gue in So­cial Mo­bil­ity and Its En­e­mies that ran­dom al­lo­ca­tion of places at in­sti­tu­tions such as the uni­ver­si­ties of Ox­ford and Cam­bridge would sweep aside the un­fair ad­van­tages en­joyed by mid­dle-class stu­dents who went to elite schools and were coached through the ap­pli­ca­tion process by their par­ents.

“Ran­domly al­lo­cat­ing equally de­serv­ing can­di­dates to over-sub­scribed… uni­ver­si­ties is the only way of lev­el­ling the ed­u­ca­tion play­ing field,” the pair write in the book, pub­lished on 27 Septem­ber.

The pair write that grow­ing num­bers of stu­dents are achiev­ing A and A* grades at A level, mak­ing it in­creas­ingly hard to dis­tin­guish be­tween them, but that these scores were “as much sig­nals of how much prepa­ra­tion and sup­port teenagers have re­ceived, as they are of pure aca­demic tal­ent and po­ten­tial”.

As a re­sult, top uni­ver­si­ties were be­com­ing in­creas­ingly “hy­per-se­lec- tive”, Dr El­liot Ma­jor told Times Higher Ed­u­ca­tion. “The mid­dle classes know how to work this, while it be­comes more baf­fling for those who don’t know how to nav­i­gate the sys­tem,” he said.

Anal­y­sis of per­sonal state­ments re­vealed “a chasm” be­tween the ex­pe­ri­ences out­lined by in­de­pen­dent and state school ap­pli­cants, the book says.

Dr El­liot Ma­jor said that lot­ter­ies would re­duce some of the ad­van­tages of those he de­scribes as the “op­por­tu­nity hoard­ers”. “This is not about dumb­ing down,” he added. “We’re not ad­vo­cat­ing a pure lot­tery, there would be an aca­demic thresh­old for stu­dents to be el­i­gi­ble for the draw.”

Stu­dents who do not win places in the lot­tery at Ox­ford or Cam­bridge, for ex­am­ple, could be al­lowed to en­ter an­other highly se­lec­tive in­sti­tu­tion, the pair say.

An­other op­tion pro­posed in So­cial Mo­bil­ity and its En­e­mies is the adop­tion of a “per cent” scheme, fol­low­ing the model tri­alled by uni­ver­si­ties in Texas and Cal­i­for­nia, which would guar­an­tee a univer­sity place to the top 10 per cent of pupils by exam grades in each state school in a lo­cal re­gion or across the coun­try.

“This would recog­nise the achieve­ment of chil­dren in the con­text in which they grow up,” Dr El­liot Ma­jor and Pro­fes­sor Machin write. “Get­ting to the top of the class in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances means more than do­ing so in a highly sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment.”

Neil Har­ri­son, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ed­u­ca­tion pol­icy at the Univer­sity of the West Eng­land, who will move to Ox­ford as a se­nior re­searcher in ed­u­ca­tion and chil­dren’s so­cial care, said mid­dle-class ad­van­tages in the ad­mis­sions process needed to be coun­tered.

“We know per­sonal state­ments have a mas­sive im­pact on ad­mis­sions, and the mid­dle classes are helped by the fact they are able to put more seem­ingly im­pres­sive things on their CV,” he said.

How­ever, ini­tia­tives like lot­ter­ies could only be a “stick­ing plas­ter”, he ar­gued. The big­ger ques­tion was why dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents weren’t ap­ply­ing to Oxbridge, per­haps be­cause they per­ceived it as an en­vi­ron­ment in which they would not be wel­come, Dr Har­ri­son said.

Dr Har­ri­son also said that the fo­cus should be on en­sur­ing that all types of univer­sity are val­ued by stu­dents, par­ents and em­ploy­ers, rather than as­sum­ing a rigid hi­er­ar­chy with “top” uni­ver­si­ties that dis­ad­van­taged stu­dents should strive to get into.

Chance would be a fine thing ‘we’re not ad­vo­cat­ing a pure lot­tery, there would be an aca­demic thresh­old for stu­dents to be el­i­gi­ble for the draw’

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