Thursday, November 01, 2018

About unconditional offers

St Mary’s University in Twickenham is to end the practice of making unconditional offers (awards of places that aren’t dependent on future A-level results) “to ensure it maintains its entry standards”. Th e problem appears to be, amazingly enough, that if students are studying for exams, the core purpose of which is to get them into university, and they’re told they don’t need to pass them to get into university, they’re not especially bothered whether or not they pass them.

This doesn’t mean that they haven’t been studying, of course – these offers tend to come about half-way through the second of final year of A-level studies, so the student will already have been through the bulk of the syllabus. What they’re missing out is the last-minute cramming of facts (and maybe a little judicious cheating) that will enable them to jump through the hoops held out by the examining boards – facts that, if they didn’t know them before, will probably have evaporated within days of the exams themselves. It’s only a problem for the universities because those A-level results are the objective measure by which they identify how adept their new students are; although all they really measure is how good they are at passing exams, not their actual aptitude for or understanding of applied mathematics, Spanish literature, existential phenomenology or whatever. The standards of the new students aren’t affected by unconditional offers, but the publishable statistics are, and they’re what matters (to politicians as well as universities). And to admit this would be to suggest that the whole exam system as we know it at the moment is pretty much pointless. And then we’d really have to start asking what education is really for. And nobody wants that, do they?

No comments: