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“Making Access Fair:” Worcester College explains their decision to admit all offer-holders

Image: North side of Worcester College’s main quad on a sunny day.

Worcester College were the first Oxford college to announce their decision to give all of their offer-holders places, regardless of results. Professor Laura Ashe, the admissions tutor at Worcester College, has stated in an interview that following the cancellation of A level exams, the college felt that they “weren’t going to have any new information that reflected directly on their ability or their potential.” 

She went on to state that the decision was also made in light of the fact that “the prior performance of schools was going to play a key role in how that grades were calculated,” which has led to state-school students being disproportionately affected by the downgrading of results this year. 

Earlier this year Worcester College came forward with a report giving insight into the changes that the college has made to their access approach in the last academic year and the results that they have produced. 

The report begins by outlining the college’s definition of ‘fair access,’ as decided upon last year: “Worcester College could be regarded as fair if the demographics of our offer-holders matched the demographics of those who achieve AAA or higher at A-Level.” The college went on to conduct research into four “demographic groups:” state-school students, students in areas with low progression to higher education (measured via the POLAR system), students that are socio-economically disadvantaged (measured via the ACORN system), and non-white, or ‘“BAME,” students.

The statement goes on to suggest that one of the major issues of outreach lies not in getting these students to apply, but in fact in giving them places; “Applicants belonging to these demographic groups were making applications, but their applications were not all equally likely (in a statistical sense) to be successful.” 

The statement identifies that a problem may lie in how the university goes about assessing “potential” through its current admissions process; “It operates via the assumption that it is ‘fair’ to look for similar indicators of potential in students who have had vastly different opportunities to develop the kinds of skills we measure and evaluate during the admissions process.” 

“It operates via the assumption that it is ‘fair’ to look for similar indicators of potential in students who have had vastly different opportunities to develop the kinds of skills we measure and evaluate during the admissions process.” 

In response to these issues, Worcester College chose to use “the new contextual data available to us in a different and more immediate way” throughout the admissions process, and by asking their tutors “to think critically about their expectations of applicants, and to identify ways to discern potential in those applicants who had not (yet) had the privilege of learning to present their academic ability in the ways in which we had grown to expect to see it in more advantaged applicants.” 

The result of this is that this year’s offer-holders are made up of 83% state-school students, 20% are from areas of low progression levels to higher education, and 22% are from socio-economically disadvantaged areas. Data from UCAS has not yet been received regarding the number of ‘BAME’ offer-holders. 

Following the announcement by Worcester College that they would be accepting all offer-holders, regardless of the grades they received on yesterday’s results day, Lady Margaret Hall and Hertford College have also stated that they will be admitting the majority of their offer-holders this year. Jesus College have released a statement reporting that they had accepted “seventy per cent of those for whom there were mitigating circumstances” and had missed their offers. This approach is mirrored in a statement from Somerville College. 

These decisions come in light of an immense response from the student population in Oxford to results day. Both the Sabbatical Officers and the Class Act Campaign of the Student Union have called for Oxford to confirm the places of all UK offer-holders, regardless of results. There have also been several open letters and petitions circulated, including a petition that calls for Oxford to reverse their decision to “take places away from state school ‘near misses’.”

Worcester College and Professor Laura Ashe have been contacted for comment.

Image: Andrew Shiva, licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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