Thursday, May 23, 2019

Oxford University agrees to let in disadvantaged students with lower grades

Starry eyed nonsense.  This will just increase the dropout rate.  Politics trump merit

Oxford University will offer places with lower grades to students from disadvantaged backgrounds for the first time in its 900-year history.

The radical scheme marks a “sea change” in the university’s admissions process. However, it comes amid criticism from middle-class Oxford rejects and headteachers that private school students are being “squeezed out” by the University’s current diversity drive.

From 2020, 250 state school students will receive free tuition and accommodation as part of a multi-million-pound recruitment bid for disadvantaged students.

However, 50 students in the new intake - which will include refugees and young carers - will be eligible to receive offers “made on the basis of lower contextual A-level grades, rather than the university’s standard offers”.

Typical offers from the university usually range between A*A*A and AAA depending on the subject. However, those studying under the new scheme could be accepted into the university with offers as low as ABB. This marks the first time under the current admissions system that lower grades will be accepted from some students.

In an announcement today, the University revealed that it will launch two new programmes, entitled Opportunity Oxford and Foundation Oxford, in a bid to boost diversity. Both schemes will be fully funded by the university. However, The Telegraph understands that education bosses will look into donor funding in the coming months.

Foundation Oxford will be open to 50 students with “high academic potential” who have personally experienced particularly severe disadvantage or educational disruption - as well as refugees and carers - and will last for a year. Students will have to pass the 'Foundation' year before being admitted to their undergraduate course.

Meanwhile, Opportunity Oxford will run for two weeks and is aimed at 200 students from more disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds who are on track for the required grades, but who “need additional support to transition successfully from school to Oxford”.

By 2023 the university aims for 25 per cent of its intake to hail from the UK’s most under-represented backgrounds, up from the 15 per cent currently.

Prof Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, said that the new recruitment drive marks “a sea change in Oxford admissions”.

"Colleagues from across the University, its colleges and departments have united behind a commitment to accelerate the pace at which we are diversifying our student body and ensuring that every academically exceptional student in the country knows that they have a fair chance of a place at Oxford," she said.

Universities are coming under increasing pressure from the higher education regulator to admit more students from ethnic minorities and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Last year Labour MP David Lammy became embroiled in a Twitter row with Oxford University after he dubbed the institution “a bastion of white, middle class, southern privilege”. It came following data that revealed that eight of the 29 colleges included in a report accepted fewer than three black applicants in the past three years.

In 2017, Oxford admitted more pupils from the private Westminster School (49), than it did black students (48).

Earlier this month The Telegraph reported that black students were failing to apply for the University of Cambridge, according to Professor Graham Virgo, its pro-vice-chancellor, because there is a lack of Afro-Caribbean hairdressers in the city.

A number of top universities have launched "contextual offer" schemes in recent years, where pupils from poor backgrounds or lower-performing state schools can gain entry with lower grades.

Bristol University launched a scheme in 2016 whereby courses that may typically require top grades at A-level will be offered to “high potential” pupils from local schools with grades as low as C.

From September, students on an "access" scheme at University College London will also be made offers of up to two grades below what is ordinarily required.

However, the diversity drive has sparked frustration among some in the education sector.  Dr Anthony Wallersteiner, head of the £36,000-a-year Stowe School in Buckinghamshire, said that the number of privately-educated children getting places at Oxbridge had been “driven down” as part of efforts to boost diversity.

He recently told The Times that private-school parents claimed that their children were being “edged out” by social engineering.

Both of Oxford University’s new schemes are tailored for bright but low-income pupils who are offered a place but struggle to meet the final requirements, or need help making the transition.

Participants will all be based at Oxford colleges before they continue on to the undergraduate degree for which they were admitted.


UK: Sikh girl who wore religious knife to class caused parents to take their children out of school

A Sikh girl who brought a religious knife into class caused parents to boycott her primary school over safety concerns.

The schoolgirl brought a kirpan, a small blunt sword or dagger worn by Sikhs as a mark of their faith, into the school earlier this month.

Kirpans are one of five articles of faith, known as ‘the five K’s’, that Sikhs are commanded to wear at all times to demonstrate their religious faith. The Department for Education does not have a central guidelines on school uniforms and religious items. It is down to individual headteachers to set their school’s policy.

However the headteacher of Redscope Primary school in Rotherham, South Yorkshire, was forced to write to parents and reassure them that kirpans were “religious ornaments” and not weapons after some refused to bring their children to school over safety concerns.

Despite support from the school, the schoolgirl’s parents decided that it would be best for her not to wear the kirpan in future.  The Sikh family were new to the school and were keen to ensure that their daughter could “make friends and be part of the school community”.

Comments made online about the incident are now being investigated by South Yorkshire Police as possible hate crimes.

One parent said: "I'm sorry but, religion or not, a child's health and safety comes first." Another added: "Most girls aren't allowed to wear make-up in school, never mind carry a weapon."

South Yorkshire Police said they had been told about the situation, which reportedly sparked "race-related hate" comments on social media.

The row comes as the Government this week announced that an amendment to the ‘Offensive Weapons Bill’ has received the royal assent. This means that Sikhs will be allowed to carry kirpans and use them during religious and cultural functions.

The All Party Parliamentary Group for British Sikhs had campaign for kirpans to remain exempt as weapons when the new Bill becomes ratified.

Speaking of the incident involving the kirpan, Paula Dobbin, the school’s headteacher, said: “We were made aware that a kirpan was being worn by a child at the end of last week. The item is not sharp, and is often worn in schools by children of the Sikh faith nationwide.

“However, having spoken to the parents of the child concerned, they have agreed that the child will no longer wear this item in school. Parents have been made aware of the situation and their children should be in school as normal.”

Ms Dobbin added: "Concerns have been circulating on social media around this issue, which has caused a number of you to delay bringing your children into school today. I reassure you there is no reason for you not to bring your children to school."

A police spokesman said: "Police are aware that a religious kirpan was brought into the school by a pupil. "Local neighbourhood officers continue to work closely with the school, providing advice and reassurance and talking to parents. There are no wider safeguarding concerns and no crime has been reported.

"A number of comments on social media have been reported to us as race-related hate crime, following this situation. South Yorkshire Police would like to remind the public that hate crime of any kind is not tolerated. An investigation into the comments is under way."


Education policy challenges for Australia

If Scott Morrison does what he said last week he would do and reappoints Dan Tehan to the education portfolio if he won the election, then we might at last see what this minister is about.

Since last August, when Morrison appointed him after the coup against Malcolm Turnbull, Tehan has mainly kept his counsel.

He’s been most vocal in speaking up for regional universities, pressing for more revenue-generating international students to go bush. He made a mild intervention in the culture wars, appointing former chief justice Robert French to review freedom of speech in universities. And, significantly, he started a possibly far-reaching review into so-called provider category standards which could open the way to a new model of tertiary education. But that’s been about it.

The elephant in the room — how universities will be funded when the present freeze ends next year, and how the lift in demand for university places from the Costello baby boom will be met — was left unaddressed.

As the Grattan Institute’s ­Andrew Norton points out, the Morrison government needs to deal with the bulge in university-aged young people caused by the Howard government, which, at the height of the resource boom in the early 2000s, lavished money on new parents through a generous baby bonus scheme worth up to $5000.

It was then treasurer Peter Costello who urged parents to have one for mum, one for dad and one for the country.

Now another Coalition government has to deal with the fiscal consequences as the growth in the number of 18-year-olds starts rising next year and peaks in 2024.

The government’s stated plan, to index growth of university funding to the adult population of the whole country from next year, doesn’t have a hope of keeping pace with this level of demand.

To be fair, Tehan inher­ited the university funding policy and higher education was not a priority of the government’s election campaign. So he let it sit. But now he’s going to have to pick up the baton and do something.

Tehan also faces another ­related crisis. As he is well aware, Australian universities have divided into the haves and the have-nots. The generally richer institutions are getting even richer from enrolling international students and the poorer ones are often missing out on this academic equivalent of the gold rush.

Following the imposition of the Turnbull government funding freeze in late 2017, cash-strapped universities turned to inter­national students for revenue. But it’s a crowded market and some compromised on academic standards and English proficiency to win students.

Now this volatile situation, which threatens to damage Australia’s reputation, needs to be sorted out and Tehan looks like being the one in the hot seat.


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