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Quite possibly so

Students are increasingly failing exams after inflated pandemic A-level grades helped them win a place at university, a vice-chancellor has warned.

Universities found themselves scrambling to find enough places for students in 2021 after record grade inflation caused by teacher-assessed results meant that more students than expected met their offer conditions.

However, some of those students are now dropping out because they are failing exams or failing to submit work, it has been suggested.

This is also an oft used critique of diversity standards on UI entrance. By offering lower grades to the more diverse student we end up doing them no favours for exactly the reason above.

We can even work out what the cause is. We could think of entrance standards – whatever they are – as being something used to select between those who are worthy of getting in. Everyone is worthy of a uni degree, so we’re just deciding which sorta thing.

Or, we might think that the entrance standards are to decide who is worth of the uni degree. Who is capable of doing it.

Guess where the prices for all, tabula rasa, left tends to be on this choice?

5 thoughts on “Quite possibly so”

  1. No problem. The universities will (continue to) simply lower the standards required to obtain a degree, as has been happening for the last 4 decades at least.

  2. mostly students fail exams because they have spent too little time gaining a knowledge of the relevant curriculum, and what of it is likely to be tested, and how! It has been known for a long time that passing exams, in itself, only demonstrates that the individual has worked out how to pass the exam. In fact, if you want to understand this more fully then read Feynman on his time in Brazil.

  3. I tend to think about questions like university admission in terms of a simplified mental model.

    Each student has an intrinsic ability level (for the purpose of the model, this is just one measurement; in reality it’s some combination of general intelligence and subject aptitude).

    Each teaching institution has a quality level (for the purpose of the model, we assume this is uniform across the school/college/university and that every student gets the same quality of teaching; in reality, of course, there are better and worse teachers and there are compatibility issues between particular students and particular teaching styles)

    Neither of the above can be directly measured.

    The amount that any given student learns in an academic year depends on some function of their ability level and their teaching institution’s quality level. This is then added to the total of what they learned previously.

    The only thing we can measure is the total of what a student has learned, which we do through their examinations.

    From the point of view of a university, a student with high ability and a poor high school will get good-but-not-great results, while one with middling ability and a very good high school will get better results. So, the high ability student might get ABB while the middling ability student might get AAA. But both students are going to get the same quality of teaching at university level, so the high ability student will be able to first catch and then surpass the middling ability student.

    The question this then poses is, who should get admitted to university?

    The student with the best exam results?
    The student who is likely to get the best results at the end of their undergraduate?
    The student who is most likely to get a PhD or other higher qualification (this weights even higher to native ability, as they will have six or seven years to catch up instead of just three)?
    The student with the highest native ability (even if they will never actually catch up with someone who got thirteen years of better education)?
    The student who is most likely, given admission to the university, to achieve the most in life (highest future earnings or high prestige/power job)? This gives an advantage in admissions to those with social contacts, wealthy parents, etc; they can get a job via connections and then the university can claim it as a benefit from their education.

    I incline to the view that the purpose of admitting people to an undergraduate course is to get the best graduates you can, which means the second group – allowing for some benefit for those who attended bad schools, but only so much in that they have to catch up by the time they graduate, not somewhere off in the more distant future.

  4. @Richard Gadsden

    One of the reasons why Oxbridge have interviews is to try to avoid relying too much on exam results and look also at a student’s potential. However, I don’t know how the success of that could be tested.

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