By Ellis Mallett |
Having recently read a tweet by an editor of “Wonkhe. Home of the UK higher education debate” which listed the easiest universities to get into by average UCAS points, I was left wondering about his decision to tweet such a statistic in this way. Some of the replies suggest he was merely tweeting out daily higher education coverage from the web as part of his job requirements, nevertheless I thought about the wider implications of his decision. Firstly, on the students attending the listed universities, and secondly, on students who had obtained UCAS points equating to 101 through to 112 as quoted in his tweet.
I once heard an academic say to a class of postgraduate students, that you can certainly tell the difference between “somebody who studied at a red brick university and somebody who studied at a met”. I’m still not sure what he meant by this, and still to this day wonder why such a comment was at all necessary. In an academic world where there is already a hugely stigmatised image of what the ‘perfect student’ should look like, attitudes like this depict lower achieving students as incapable and inferior. Universities are continually discussing and promoting the importance of inclusion and diversity on applicant open days, social media channels and in their university-wide slogans, but are the practices of their staff matching up to their said “values”?
Are lower entry requirements such a bad thing?
Universities with lower entry requirements provide lesser-achieving students the opportunity to succeed and develop their skills and abilities within the higher education system. While low tariff points can be a reflection of genuine student ability, they can also be the result of diverse and complex personal backgrounds. A student’s personal circumstances may profoundly impact their capacity to succeed in exams and academia more generally at a specific point in time, and therefore impacts which universities they can apply to and for which subjects. While the “easiest unis to get in to” might not be the ones at the top of the league tables, they allow an entry point for students coming from a variety backgrounds to have a chance to really achieve their potential.
Does this mean that a student who has gained entry into one of the “easiest unis to get in to” didn’t work hard? Does it mean they are less able? Less clever? Less able to progress onto further programmes of study? Of course not, but there is certainly a stigma attached to students who attend universities that don’t have a “red-brick” reputation.
Reputation, equality and mental health within academia
More so than ever, we as an academic community need to be looking at ways in which we can encourage students who do not achieve A/A* A level grades to reach their highest potential and look at ways in which they can progress within the field. The industry of academia is particularly lacking in diversity, individuals from underrepresented groups are likely to be disheartened by the lack of relatable and accessible role models, and by the sometimes-poisonous environment academia brings with it. As the importance of discussing mental health continues to grow, and as we continue to raise awareness about the significance of equality and diversity within the industry, we should be cautious and considerate about how we project the accessibility of academia.
The “easiest unis to get in to” tweet really stuck with me – “easiest” for who and in terms of what, we should ask. How does this tweet come across to students? How does it make them feel? Should they feel bad for getting into an “easy” university? Does this mean their hard work didn’t pay off? How does this affect their future goals and ambitions? Is their confidence impacted? How does this play into imposter syndrome? Does this enhance students’ motivation to progress higher within academia? As an undergraduate student who achieved BBC at A Level, my university experience at Manchester Metropolitan University (which has an entry requirement of 104-112 UCAS points) allowed me to complete an MA in Diplomacy & Foreign Policy and to successfully entry onto a fully funded PhD programme. So while some universities may be “easier” to get into than others, this should not reflect the hard work students from “easy” universities put in to get where they want to be.
I may have felt compelled to write this piece due to my own personal experience, but equally, I believe this is a topic that needs to be raised within the research community. Damaging connotations around how “easy” universities are to get into should not be a reflection of (and lead to subjective judgments on) an individual’s background, work ethic and capacity to achieve. It’s time to start thinking differently about how we make academia an inclusive, equal environment.
Image from: https://www.seguetech.com/benefits-segue-diversity-inclusivity/
Ellis is a first year PhD Politics student at the University of Surrey. Her research uses neoclassical realism to explain foreign policy reversals, focusing specifically on the Obama administration’s Iran & Cuba policies. Alongside her PhD research, she is also interested in exploring the representation and participation of women in foreign policy studies and practice.