Oxford stands out from the crowd of A* offers

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Oxford is one of the only top universities that has abided by the agreement with the Government not to introduce A* offers this year.

Students are backing OUSU’s support of Oxford’s decision not to raise their standard offer for 2011.

Universities had agreed with the Government not to introduce A* offers until 2012. Oxford will revise their position next year.

Bristol, Warwick, the LSE, Reading and Bath are among roughly ten universities that followed Cambridge, UCL and Imperial’s A* trial in 2010.

With the exception of Cambridge, whose standard offer for all subjects has been A*AA since 2010, only certain courses will be affected.

For example, Warwick will be asking sixth formers for an A* for Maths, Economics, PPE and Business courses and the LSE will be doing so in Maths, Economics and Law.

To achieve an A*, students must attain above 80 in all AS modules and above 90 in all A2 modules with an overall mark of at least 90 percent.

A press officer for Oxford University said that the University chose not to implement the A* offer because Oxford is less dependent on A level grades for differentiating students than some other universities. Tutors also have the interview system and admission test results, which 85% of applicants to Oxford sit, to consider.

She said that how candidates perform in admissions tests correlates to their performance in tutorials, and that while data shows that Oxford’s current admissions measures are good, universities have not yet compiled sufficient data on A* attainment and subsequent performance at university to convince Oxford that it is a good indicator of a student’s potential.

The same press officer said that Cambridge do not make “nearly as wide use” of admissions tests, and have always asked for module marks even before they introduced the A* offer.

St John’s Historian Alex Harvey is among many who back Oxford decision, saying he achieved a low A in History A-level and two A*s at GCSE, but just missed a First in his Prelims, “which would piss all over the idea that A* A-levels sort the wheat from the chaff”.

Rachel Astall, a PPE student at Worcester who achieved AAB at A-level, said she “would have been annoyed” if Oxford had asked her for an A*. She said that 90 percent was too high a mark to ask for, especially in a subject she would not have been continuing past A-level, since she did not do Philosophy, Politics or Economics at school.

Many students have also expressed concern about the access issue that an A* offer could potentially generate. Harvey said: “I think the A*AA offer is another sop to the independent sector, which can coach people for exams far better than the state does at the moment”.

But Elliot Thomas, another PPE student at Worcester, said that Oxford admissions tests already “unfairly advantage private and grammar schools”. Thomas said that howver much it is advocated that you cannot prepare for them, many private schools still provide coaching in both interviews and admissions tests.

The issue also ties in with the proposal to raise higher education fees, since universities attracting A* students may use this to justify increasing the price of education on the basis that their courses are more academically rigorous.

Astall said that if Oxford is to “avoid slipping back into an Old Eton Boys’ club”, it must neither increase fees nor ask for A*s.

She was not concerned that Oxford’s prestige may diminish as a result of falling behind the universities that are increasing their standards, saying: “Oxford’s reputation has been built on centuries of taking on the best candidates.

“Its reputation will only fall if continuing to offer AAA results in a dumbing down of students”.
Statistics show that this is not the case at least for this year’s intake at Oxford, 90 percent of whom attained at least one A* at A level despite it not being a requirement of entry.

A spokesperson for Cambridge said that there has been no noticeable decrease in state school applications and that the majority of first-years this year attained at least 2 A*s.

Astall retorted: “If that many people are getting it, what’s the point of asking it?”