Friday, March 20, 2009

3 As not enough for Cambridge

3 As not enough for Cambridge
Sat, Mar 21, 2009
The New Paper

IF YOU'VE been mugging hard to get the minimum three As at next year's A levels to get into Cambridge University, you may have to work harder.

One of those grades will have to be an A*, according to BBC News.

The A* is a new grade that will be introduced for marks that are over 90 per cent.

The increase in the minimum cut-off grades is subject to review.

British media reports did not state if the requirement will include foreign students applying for places in the prestigious university.

According to BBC, of last year's A-level entries, an average of 26 per cent were awarded A across all subjects.

Top universities in the UK have argued for some time that they find it hard to distinguish between the best candidates.

Last year, Cambridge had so many applicants with at least three As that it had to reject more than 5,400 of them, reported the BBC.

The university's decision is likely to fuel arguments about whether the A levels have been dumbed down in recent years.

According to The Times, other universities, including Oxford, may follow Cambridge's lead and raise the bar on admissions.

But UK's National Committee for Educational Excellence last October urged universities to ignore the A* grade for the first few years after its launch until the benchmark has been tested.

At that time, Cambridge indicated it would follow this line, reported the Press Association.


But with this latest announcement, Cambridge appears to have reversed its decision.

Dr Geoff Parks, the university's director of admissions, told The Times that the present grades could not 'differentiate enough between the top end of the ability range'.

He said: 'Our current level of offer is not actually a meaningful hurdle. We want to test the water.'

The head of the Association of School and College Leaders, Mr John Dunford, said: 'We are disappointed that Cambridge has gone down this route, especially since other universities are likely to follow...

'The inevitable consequence is that it will devalue A and B grades and increase stress and anxiety among bright 17 and 18-year-olds.'

While independent schools welcomed the move, Labour MPs, teaching unions and education experts expressed concern that Cambridge's move would be used to 'fillet out' state school pupils.

In 2007, 59 per cent of its intake were from state schools.

Mr Barry Sheerman, the chairman of the Commons' Children, Schools and Families Committee, told The Times: 'I'm very concerned that some of our greatest universities are becoming no-go zones for children from normal backgrounds.'

But Dr Parks Dunford assured: 'It's important to recognise that the usual checks and balances will be in place to ensure that all Cambridge applicants will be given careful, detailed consideration and that this decision won't disadvantage students from any one given background over another.'

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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