Whilst many universities are making contextual offers for students from less privileged backgrounds, there are still a number of flaws in the system. I am a student at The University of Edinburgh. When applying in 2014, my offer for English Literature was AAA. That offer for the same course is now typically A*AA which is as high as a standard Oxbridge offer.
Between the 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 academic year, Edinburgh had the biggest decrease across the Russell Group universities of state educated students entering first year. As a university that has a high intake of students educated in the private sector, the drop in state school students is worrying. Whilst I have experienced a high standard of widening participation care as a student of the university, I found Edinburgh to be relatively inaccessible prior to studying here. I was a part of the Higher Education Access Programme (HEAPS), which helps students who are the first generation in their family to go to university and who attend schools with low progression to higher education. Whilst Edinburgh would have been aware of the contextual factors of my application, I was still given a high offer of AAA, and when I missed this mark the admissions team were quick to reject me.
The process of my getting into Edinburgh was long and complicated. My results were AAB, with the B in Psychology being 2 UMS points off an A. Eventually after a remark Edinburgh accepted me, but this was after welcome week had already started. There was no accommodation at this point so I was put into emergency halls. Luckily, this all ended up working and I wouldn’t change anything if I could.
From my experience, Edinburgh were unsympathetic to letting me in when I just missed the mark. I do understand they are an exceptionally oversubscribed university, but as they are trying to stress their accessibility it baffles me that entry requirements are increasing. At the school I attended 4% of people in 2014 got ABB at A Level, compared to 58% in a private school in the same borough. Obviously, the fault in this system runs deeper than university admissions, but I truly believe that more should be done to make sure that universities across the UK are equally accessible to students from all strands of the education system.
A great step forward is the allocation of clearing places to students from deprived areas in Scotland, demonstrating the understanding that different students need different levels of support when beginning university, not just once they are in. In hindsight, Edinburgh’s acceptance of more students through clearing would have allowed me a smoother experience.
This is not to suggest that the university should entirely lower their entry requirements for state school students. However, in situations where the mark has just been missed, I believe it would be beneficial for the admissions team to look at the contextual factors of the applicant and display more leniency if the applicant has just missed their offer, as many other Russell Group universities do.
Another move which the university is taking to alleviate this issue is in partnership with programs such as LEAPS (Lothian Equal Access Programme for Schools). These programs help to establish a relationship between local schools and the university, and provide support for students in understanding their options for higher education.
As a student who was on a similar program, I can’t stress enough how important this was in helping me get into university, and the more Edinburgh participate in these schemes the more the university will move in the direction of a more balanced environment.
Image: commons.wikimedia.org, SSgt Sarah Brown/NTM-A Public Affairs