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Monday, 10 April, 2000, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
University admissions 'unfair'
Many pupils from poor backgrounds do not even consider going to university
Head teachers' leaders have called for the UK university admissions system to be remodelled on the US system, to give working class pupils from poor areas a better chance.

They said universities should stop solely relying on A-levels, and should also base admissions on IQ tests - following the example of top US colleges.

The call came after research showed working class children from poor areas of the UK have a less than one in 100 chance of gaining a place at some of the country's top universities.

Peter Lampl
Peter Lampl: "Scandalous waste of talent"

The research was carried out by the Sutton Trust, which provides educational opportunities for academically able young people from non-privileged backgrounds.

It indicates that half of Oxford and Cambridge university places go to independent school pupils, while just 8% come from the lowest three socio-economic classes, which account for half of the population.

It also suggests that independent school pupils have a 25 times better chance of winning a place at universities like Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Edinburgh, Nottingham, St Andrews, Warwick, York, Imperial College London, the London School of Economics and University College London.

If you come from a poor background and you are educated in a state school serving a deprived community, the dice are already loaded against you.

David Hart, NAHT

The trust's founder, businessman and philanthropist Peter Lampl, described its findings as a "scandalous waste of talent".

David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said this would continue "as night follows day" while universities based admission mainly on A-level achievement.

He said: "If you come from a poor background and you are educated in a state school serving a deprived community, the dice are already loaded against you.

Harvard and Yale

"The chances are that you will do your A-levels in a small sixth form without the benefit of feeding off other academically able pupils."

It was then very difficult for pupils from poor backgrounds to demonstrate what they could do with the resources of a top university behind them, he said.

But in the US, "Ivy League" colleges like Harvard and Yale made great efforts to seek out the brightest students from poor areas.

Kings College Cambridge
The research suggests half of Cambridge University places go to independent school pupils

They offer places not just on academic achievement but also on scores in Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs) which measure potential like IQ tests.

The SAT I test measures a student's mathematical and verbal reasoning abilities.

Many colleges in the East and West of the US require students to take the SAT I test, and to submit their scores when they apply for admission.

Some colleges accept this test or the ACT - a test published by American College Testing, which measures a student's aptitude in English, maths reading, and science reasoning.

Many colleges in the South and Midwest require students to take the ACT test.

'Radical solution needed'

SAT II subject tests are offered in many areas of study including English, maths, sciences, history, and foreign languages.

Some colleges require students to take one or more SAT II tests when they apply.

No UK university yet uses the equivalent of SATs, or puts the same resources into seeking out unrecognised talent - although Oxford University is researching the possibility of its own tests of academic potential, as a means of widening access.

But Mr Hart said on Monday that other steps being taken to widen the horizons of children from poor backgrounds were "just a sticking plaster without a real reform of the admissions system."

John Dunford
John Dunford: Supporting call for new admissions system

He was supported by John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, who said: "We have known about this problem for more than a generation, but universities have failed to do anything about it.

"Some radical solution is needed which gets away from reliance on A-level results.

"I'm in favour of using the equivalent of SATs as well. Only in that way will we start to get a level playing field."

A spokeswoman for the Association of University Teachers said: "Social inclusion is a real challenge to higher education. Education must be a matter of who can benefit not who can pay."


An Education Department spokeswoman said that next year it would be spending 10m on student bursaries linking schools and colleges in deprived areas with leading universities.

She said: "We want to enable many more of those from disadvantaged backgrounds with the ability to benefit from getting access to higher education."

She said that although the department was interested in the way SATs tests were used in the US, there were currently no plans to study they way they worked with a view to introducing a similar system in the UK.

But she said: "We share the aspirations of those who designed them that all students should have the opportunity to demonstrate their ability, regardless of income, class or social status."

A spokesman for the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals said: "This research presents a challenge for universities, but they already work hard to encourage young people from all backgrounds to aspire to higher education."

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See also:

07 Jul 99 | Education
Help for bright children
03 Dec 99 | Education
University drop-out rates exposed
03 Dec 99 | Northern Ireland
NI's universities attract poorer students
14 Nov 99 | Education
University access for all
13 Aug 99 | Education
Students' social misfit fears
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