From October 2016, the University of Cambridge plans to implement a standard written entrance test for all students as part of its admissions process.
Yesterday, in a letter to Heads of Sixth Forms and Oxbridge Co-ordinators, Dr Sam Lucy, Director of Admissions for the Cambridge Colleges informed education professionals of proposed changes to the institution’s admissions process. The University-wide tests will be tailored to each subject, and will be taken by the student either before or during their interview.
University officials argue they have no choice but to introduce the tests after the UK government’s A-Level reforms have led to a decline in the number of students sitting AS-exams; in previous years, results from these exams have been used to aid the decision of whether or not a student should be admitted to the university.
— Ben Fuller (@politicsastar) February 3, 2016
In the letter, Dr Lucy states the new test will provide “valuable additional evidence of our applicants’ academic abilities, knowledge base and potential to succeed in the Cambridge course for which they have applied.”
The proposal has again ignited the debate that the Oxbridge institutions are becoming increasingly elitist, and many critics argue that the new process for application might serve as a barrier to students from disadvantaged backgrounds. Alan Milburn, former Labour Minister and chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC) condemned the proposal, claiming the institution is once again restricting equal access with its long and complex admissions process.
The Sutton Trust, a group that campaigns for social mobility in education, is due to criticise the move this week, claiming the new system will prevent admissions from even the most intelligent state school students.
— The Sutton Trust (@suttontrust) February 1, 2016
The UK Prime Minister has also voiced concern, claiming that Britain’s most prestigious schools are almost turning a blind eye to discrimination in enrolments. Earlier this week, David Cameron accused these same schools of not doing enough to attract students from black and ethnic minority backgrounds.
“This move is a result of responding to teacher and student feedback, a desire to harmonise and simplify our existing use of written assessments and a need to develop new ways to maintain the effectiveness and fairness of our admissions system during ongoing qualification reform,” Dr Lucy told BBC News.
There are currently 11 separate entrance exams for the University of Oxford, while up until now, Cambridge has had as many as 380 different entrance exams, varying from simple written tests to official examinations.
— Whatuni.com (@Whatuni) February 2, 2016
A spokesman for Cambridge University has said the new tests will complement existing measures for assessment which include an additional application questionnaire, examples of written work, references from teachers and academic interviews.
Dr Lucy’s letter highlighted that “no advance preparation will be needed, other than revision of relevant recent subject knowledge where appropriate.” But sector professionals remain unconvinced by the new admissions process.
Olly Hudson, President of Cambridge University’s Sidney Sussex College, called the move “the worst thing to happen to access, like, ever,” later adding: “there is no such thing as an unteachable test, and the kind of resources independent and private schools can dedicate towards these things are huge.”
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