Admissions tutors should not wrestle with contextual data alone

UCAS could help ensure that all students are assessed on the same information, says Miles Hewstone, Fellow of New College

Times Higher Education, 09/01/2014, p 30, Miles Hewstone

Opinion piece by Professor Miles Hewstone, an admissions tutor in psychology at New College, Oxford, in which he calls on Ucas to factor contextual data into its applications process: ‘While this is the time of year when Oxbridge applicants nervously await the outcome of their interviews, we should also spare a thought for the plight of the poor admissions tutor. The annual agony of the admissions process, with interviews held right up until Christmas week, brings many difficult decisions, not least the fraught question of whether and how to use contextual data.’ Professor Hewstone writes that factoring in contextual data about students’ background and schooling should not be the sole responsibility of admissions tutors, and that it would be ‘far better for Ucas to develop a standard mathematically derived formula to guide us as to how much leeway we have in making lower offers to candidates from deprived backgrounds’. Professor Hewstone expresses his surprise that ‘only 37% of universities use contextual data’. He adds that while Oxbridge application numbers are ‘kept down by self-selection based on teachers’ advice ... many other leading universities have 20 applicants per place for subjects such as law and medicine. For them, interviewing every candidate is not realistic.’