HEFCE report on degree outcomes

28 March 2014

Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of universities, said:

“Universities will no doubt want to study the report. But HEFCE’s conclusions are based on data from a very diverse range of institutions. Caution is needed in applying this kind of analysis to the consideration of applications for individual courses.  

“As the report reiterates, A-level and equivalent qualifications are still, without doubt, the key source of information about academic ability. Students with better A-levels do better in higher education. But Russell Group universities take a range of factors into account when deciding which students are offered a place. So the candidate’s qualifications are considered in a broader ‘context’. The bottom line is we want to give places to the pupils with the qualifications, potential and determination to succeed.

“However, a ‘systematic’ or ‘blanket’ approach to the use of contextual information is highly problematic because it can rely too heavily on data which is limited in how far it can reveal a true picture of the candidate’s background.

“This new research actually shows why it is important that universities are allowed to continue setting admissions based on their own particular circumstances.  For example, there is little difference in achievement at degree level for those pupils with the highest A level grades - whether from state or private schools – and these students make up the majority of successful applicants at Russell Group universities.

“Admission to university is and should be based on merit, and any decisions about admissions must also maintain high academic standards.”

Notes to Editors

  1. Russell Group universities use a whole range of methods to spot the most talented pupils. These include looking at personal statements and references, interviewing candidates or asking them to sit additional tests, particularly in competitive courses. These all give applicants a further opportunity to demonstrate their strengths or a real interest in the subject. Others take into account any barriers an individual may have faced during their education such as spending time in care.
  2. HEFCE’s report states clearly that students with better A Levels do better in higher education. 80% of students with grades AAB or above gain a first or upper-second degree; approximately 50% or less of those with CCC or lower do so.
  3. You can read the full report from HEFCE here.

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