The Reporter
Issue no 487, 27 January 2003
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Degree success linked to more than just good grades


Working well independently, motivation to learn, interest in the subject area, and good self-organisation are key criteria for degree success, a recent study has found. The University of Leeds was one of six HEIs to take part in the UUK commissioned study Fair Enough?, which looked at ways to improve the offer decisions made by admissions tutors and make the process more fair and transparent.

“It's a key objective that universities like Leeds enable more students from disadvantaged backgrounds to gain a place,” said Professor Richard Taylor from continuing education, who sat on the study’s steering group. “We need to find ways of identifying students who have real potential but, because of their social background and educational experiences, may not have attained the standard entry grades. This project has helped to develop ways in which admissions tutors can make more informed choices, not based entirely upon 'A' level grades.”

The criteria identified by the study could help to ensure schemes targeting non-traditional applicants are fair and objective, inform admissions tutors’ choices when lots of applicants meet the entry level, provide a framework for interviews and improve admissions decisions post results and during clearing, the UUK report claims.

At Leeds, modern languages, philosophy and physics took part in the study. The report found some resistance to differential offers, saying there was a ‘widely held belief that A level points were linked to degree performance’, despite University research to the contrary (see below). However, the project has already helped raise awareness over the issue.

‘”Working with the project made us think about how we measure the future potential of applicants,” said head of widening participation, Ceri Nursaw. “We have many intiatives under way to ensure a fair and open application system, including a new Access to Leeds scheme targeting non-traditional applicants from Leeds and Wakefield, who are made alternative offers, but must complete a study skills course and a piece of assessed work in their discipline.”

The findings of the study are outlined in a report – Fair Enough? Wider access to university by identifying potential to succeed – which can be found on the UUK web pages.

Students with low or no A levels can perform just as well at university as those with 3 As, according to research by the universities of Leeds and Kent. Professor of computing, Roger Boyle, continuing education lecturer Martyn Clark, and Janet Carter from the University of Kent looked at single honours computing students in both universities – 149 with A levels and 61 with non-traditional qualifications such as GNVQs or foundation and access courses.

In comparisons between non-traditional and traditional students, both performed to the same average level at first-year and third-year level. Among students with A levels, those with 24 points or more showed a stronger performance in the first year, but this advantage had disappeared by the end of their course causing entry score to have very little influence on final degree.
“It is tempting to see the ‘30-pointer’ and their three As as the highest prize in undergraduate recruitment,” said Professor Boyle. “Our research shows that jewels might have much humbler origins and all new students are justified in having the same academic expectations of success and graduation.”


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