Friday, 11 June 2010

A final word about university

I think that this topic has been more or less worked to death, but after Alison Sauer drew my attention to a few universities which she felt would be promising to those with no formal qualifications, it seemed churlish not to look into the matter. I have now been in touch with the four universities and all but one are complete duds for the purpose of the home educated young person without GCSEs, A levels or an IB.

I spoke to people at each of the universities, which were Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews and Nottingham Trent. I am quite a persuasive fellow, but I have to say that Oxford and Cambridge clearly thought that I was off my head for even asking about such a thing! My mention of a "well kept lab book", which Alison Sauer said would be regarded by some as far better evidence of scientific understanding than an A level in the relevant subject, provoked, I am sorry to say, laughter at all the universities except for Nottingham Trent. I followed these enquiries up with emails, so that we would have something more than my own recollections of the conversations. Oxford said;

In almost every case, we will very much be looking for specific qualifications at a high level, although we do accept a wide variety of possible qualifications

In the email, we are told, 'in almost every case', which seems to suggest room for manoeuvre, but when I spoke to the woman, she told me she was not aware of a single case. Cambridge were even more definite. They said;

It is unlikely that any of the Colleges at Cambridge would consider an application from anybody who did not have some form of formal qualifications. Application to Cambridge is extremely competitive, and colleges need to be able to ascertain whether or not an applicant would be able to cope with the very academic courses that Cambridge offers. Without formal qualifications it would be incredibly difficult to judge this, and any applicant without examination results would be competing on a very high level with other applicants who would be offering some form of examination system.

This seems pretty certain to me. When I spoke to the guy there, he had never heard of anybody getting in without the accepted qualifications. St Andrews were also definitely sure that nobody had got in without qualifications, at least in the last few years. Which leaves Nottingham Trent.

Nottingham Trent University is what is know euphemistically as a 'new' university. It was until 1992 a technical college or polytechnic or something or that sort. It must not under any circumstances be confused with Nottingham University, which is, and has always been, a university. Now I don't think that anybody could accuse me of being at all snobbish or elitist, certainly not about matters of education, but I have to observe that a degree from Nottingham Trent is broadly equivalent in value to the old-style about Grade 8. I was accordingly not particularly surprised to find that Nottingham Trent are prepared to be a little more flexible than some of the, shall we say, older universities. Not for Physics mind, which seems to be about the only proper academic subject they teach there. But for some of the courses, there is a distinct possibility that one could get in on a portfolio or even just by having favourable past experience. I had a long chat with a woman there and she specifically mentioned Horticulture: Garden design and Fashion Design as courses which one might possibly be able to join without any formal qualifications. She certainly remembered more than one person who had done so in the past. She was equally sure that nobody would get onto the Physics course without at least a GCSE in the subject and almost certainly an A level as well.

So the situation does indeed seem to be, as I have said all along, that for a traditional, academic course such as Physics, then even at the modern universities, you will be out of luck. The one ray of hope is that some universities, even Oxbridge, are prepared to consider the first year of a BA course at another university as being equivalent to three A levels. I understand that this would depend upon both the university and the course. I suppose in theory that this could be done of Open University points, but I am guessing that you would need at least 120 to pull this off and even then you would stand more chance with A levels.


  1. "Now I don't think that anybody could accuse me of being at all snobbish or elitist, certainly not about matters of education, but I have to observe that a degree from Nottingham Trent is broadly equivalent in value to the old-style about Grade 8."

    On what do you base your assessment, Simon? Nottingham Trent was joint 57th in the Times University League table and ahead, I note, of a number of 'old' universities.

  2. "although we do accept a wide variety of possible qualifications" (Oxford University)

    "some form of formal qualifications." (Cambridge University)

    Not necessarily GCSE's, then.

    "nobody would get onto the Physics course without at least a GCSE in the subject and almost certainly an A level as well." (Nottingham Trent)

    One GCSE and maybe an A level. Anyone with an aptitude for the subject should be able to manage this at home.

    "I am guessing that you would need at least 120 to pull this off and even then you would stand more chance with A levels."

    You are guessing.

  3. Maybe I'm missing some background to this point. How do you arrive at a scenario where someone is wanting to study Physics at Oxford, but can't get in without a GCSE? Surely to be wanting to do that in the first place, they would have to have a significant degree of interest, aptitude and knowledge in the subject. In which case, why not just take the exam, which such a child would sail through.

  4. Suzyg, these positions are heavily rigged by including such factors as student satisfaction and subjective assessment by heads. Besides, I didn't say that Nottingham Trent was the worst in the country, it's not by a long chalk!

    Tess, yes of course both Oxford and Cambridge accept qualifications other than GCSEs. They rely after all upon income from overseas students. What they do not accept is no qualifications, g recently. Tell me, roughly how many OU points would you say actually equate to the first year of a BA course? I am curious about this and nobody to whom I have spoken seems to know. You evidently do.

  5. Ciaran, somebody posted on one of the lists, asking if it was true that one could get into university without doing GCSEs or other formal examinations. I posted about this, suggesting that it was unlikely that any young person could get onto a course in traditional, academic subjects like Physics in this way. Alison Sauer then said that some universities would prefer;

    "which could, for example, include an in depth professionally kept lab book - better evidence of scientific understanding than any A level"

    I have been looking into this and trying to find a Physics course which does not require formal qualifications and in which evidnece of this sort could be used.

  6. "Suzyg, these positions are heavily rigged by including such factors as student satisfaction and subjective assessment by heads. Besides, I didn't say that Nottingham Trent was the worst in the country, it's not by a long chalk!"

    So presumably your judgement about the quality of the degree was objective and based on data. I just wondered what the data was.

  7. "Tell me, roughly how many OU points would you say actually equate to the first year of a BA course? I am curious about this and nobody to whom I have spoken seems to know. You evidently do."

    Evidently? No, I don't. I suggest you ask the OU.

  8. I wonder if speaking to admin people with a member of the public with a hypthetical enquiry might have a different effect than speaking to a course tutor/subject head as a very interested student with relevant qualifications and/or experience.

    Admin people often say no, either because they don't know + are busy, or just because it's not what usually happens!

    As another poster said, I would have thought someone wanting to study physics and who is able enough to study it an university would be happy to take a GCSE or some other qualification - OU courses are more interesting - or be able to present their knowledge some other way. If they're not up for the level of study, then of course they shouldn't be accepted to study physics. I think they would definately need to seek out the head of physics at the university though, and discuss it with them. There would be no point getting on the course if it's going to be too hard anyway.

    As an anecdote: when I was young a college admin lady said I couldn't take the course I wanted, definately not. The course tutors immediate reaction was of course you can!

  9. You make some good points Fiona M. My contention was that by not sitting GCSEs, home educated children are going to be disadvnataged if they later wish to study acaedmic subjects at college or university. They may however not realise this until they actually make an application, because there is a whole mythology around the fact that it is possible to get into universities without sitting any formal examinations. I was exploring this possibility. I have in the past spoekn to heads of departments about this and they are in agreement with admissions; nothing doing!

    The point which I am trying to get across is that one might be able to get onto a course in Textile Design or Performing Arts by means of an audition or portfolio, but you will be unlikely to get to study Physics at Cambridge. It is just something for home educating parents, particularly autonomous ones to bear in mind. The decision not to sit GCSEs can cast a very long shadow.

  10. Tess, I used the word 'evidently', because when I was talking about the idea of a first year BA being translated into OU points, you told me bluntly, 'You are guessing' I took this to mean that you knew something more about it which led to your assurance that I was only guessing. I take it that you know no more about the matter than I do.

  11. No, you said you were guessing. I quote: "I am guessing"

  12. You need 360 points for an honours degree so 120 points is equivalent to the first year (or 300 points for a Ba/Bsc without honours). Not sure you would need this many to be equivalent to A levels though. OU courses are level 4 and A levels are level 3 qualifications. Reading state that 60 OU points meet their normal minimum requirements and if you have 120 points, they will consider admission into the second year.

    Cambridge state: "Certain Access and Open University courses may meet the GCSE and/or A level requirements, in whole or part. You should discuss any courses you’ve taken or are considering taking with a Cambridge Admissions Tutor."

    Essex state: "The following are among the qualifications we normally consider as a basis for the admission of applicants with non standard qualifications: Open University courses."

    St George's University London's, Therapeutic Radiography BSc (Hons) course states: "Open University: We will consider 120 OU credits. 60 must be ‘Exploring Science’ and 30 each in two other modules, one of which must be either ‘Human Biology’ or ‘Biology, Uniformity and Diversity’."

    Exeter states: "To meet our general entrance requirements you will need one or more of the following: Holders of Open University credits with a minimum of 60 credits"

  13. Thank you, Anonymous. I made my calculation about the 120 points based on the figure you give. What you quote from St George's seems to confirm it. This is very interesting and is what I suspected all along.

  14. Actually, the original poster on HE-UK wasn't asking about whether it is possible to get into university with no qualifications at all. She was asking whether it is possible to get into university without having been to *school* to do *GCSEs and A-levels*.

    I think your helpful research and that of your commenters has established that this is indeed possible (though not, of course, easy or straightforward)

  15. You know suzyg, for somebody who studied under Max Colthart to assume a faux naif amazement at the idea that there is any difference between a proper university and one of the former teachnical colleges is astonishing! The trick of getting a lousy university or college to look good in the rankings which you cite is not a hard one. To give you a concrete example, the technical college which my daughter attends now boasts that it is in the top 5% of FE colleges nationally. This is staggering, because it really is an absolutely shit estabishment. It is in the top 5% of FE colleges, to the extent that a high proportion of the students actually complete their course. If you look at the nature of the course, or the percentage who actually gain a qualification at a decent level, it is a different story. For a 'university' offering degrees in Fashion Design to be placed in the same table as those offering PPE. as though like were being compared with like, is ludicrous and misleading. I suspect that you know this as well as I do.

  16. Actually Dani, I have yet to establish anything of the sort. I set out to find if it is possible to gain entrance to a university and study academic subjects like sciences, history or mathematics without taking any GCSEs. So far, I have not found any where this has been the case. The exceptions are students from overseas, who take various courses which are equivalent. Nor have I been able to find any case of anybody gaining entrance to a university to study sciences, mathematics, history and so on, simply on the strength of OU points. It is perfectly true that in the cause of 'widening access', a number of universities claim to be open to the idea. I asked round quite a few some while ago and none knew of such a case. The exception remains Iain Dowty's son and there are of course other reasons for his admission apart from the OU points.

  17. I don't know anything about Nottingham Trent (except that I think it was a well known poly when it was a poly) but my husband recently retired from a "New Uni" last year. It didn't score very highly in any sort of table ... but it did do one thing very well - primary teacher's training. It had of course been a well known teacher's training college (indeed Charlotte Mason, beloved of home educators had once lectured there), but as is the way of things it then followed a tortured path of becoming a Higher Education College, then a University College, and now a Uni. The only apparent advantage to us was the endless supply of "rough paper" for art work every time they threw out the last lot of headed notepaper. Sigh....

  18. Simon, I quoted this example on a list yesterday (so I am not breaking anyones copyright!!) - I do know one HE family whose dd has uni offers for science based on just OU points and 3 GCSES - she has 120 points and was declined by 2 well known places because they didn't accept them as equivalent; the ones that have made offers though said it was the fact she had 2 second year courses which was the significant factor.

  19. The problem is of course that in general if something looks like a dog, has four legs and goes 'Woof', it's probably a dog. I can't stand this practice of rebranding schools as colleges and academies, colleges as universities and so on. It does not change the essentially nature of a thing to call it by a different name. Even more to the point, a first class polytechnic can easily end up as a second rate university.

  20. Thanks for that, Julie. Again, it pretty much confirms what I thought. I have a suspicion that many 'well known' universities will behave like this, even with 120 OU points.

  21. "For a 'university' offering degrees in Fashion Design to be placed in the same table as those offering PPE. as though like were being compared with like, is ludicrous and misleading. I suspect that you know this as well as I do."

    So, since you've provided no objective data, I think it's safe to conclude that your opinion on degrees from Nottingham Trent is purely that - your opinion.

    And quite frankly, given the performance of some people with PPE degrees in recent years, Fashion Design might actually be more useful.

  22. Ha, a shrewd stroke indeed suzyg. You are, I imagine, referring to some of our politicos, among whom PPE seems to be the degree of choice?

  23. Precisely. Not an outstanding track record I feel.

  24. Hello, yes this post is in fact nice and I have learned lot of things from it about
    blogging. thanks.

    Visit my web site ... Nike TN Requi

  25. Please let me know if you're looking for a article writer for your weblog. You have some really great articles and I believe I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I'd absolutely love
    to write some articles for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine.
    Please shoot me an e-mail if interested. Cheers!

    Review my site ... Louis Vuitton Handbags

  26. I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you design
    this website yourself or did you hire someone to do
    it for you? Plz respond as I'm looking to create my own blog and would like to find out where u got this from. thank you

    Also visit my web blog: Air Jordan Femme Pas Cher

  27. I really love your site.. Very nice colors & theme.
    Did you build this site yourself? Please reply back as I'm attempting to create my own personal site and would like to learn where you got this from or what the theme is named. Cheers!

    my website :: Adidas Soccer

  28. Its not my first time to go to see this web site, i am visiting this site dailly and take nice
    information from here every day.

    my web-site :: Air Max Pas Cher

  29. I like the helpful info you provide in your articles. I will bookmark your weblog
    and check again here regularly. I am quite certain I'll learn plenty of new stuff right here! Best of luck for the next!

    my blog post ... Borse Gucci Ufficiale

  30. I simply couldn't go away your website before suggesting that I really loved the standard information a person provide for your guests? Is gonna be again incessantly to check out new posts

    my web-site; Air Max France

  31. Link exchange is nothing else but it is just placing the other person's website link on your page at proper place and other person will also do same in favor of you.

    Here is my web blog - NFL Jerseys Wholesale

  32. Hello there, I do think your blog could be having browser compatibility problems.
    When I take a look at your blog in Safari, it looks
    fine however, when opening in I.E., it has some overlapping issues.
    I simply wanted to provide you with a quick heads up!
    Besides that, great site!

    Review my homepage Air Max

  33. It's perfect time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I've read this post and
    if I could I want to suggest you few interesting things
    or advice. Perhaps you can write next articles referring to this article.
    I wish to read even more things about it!

    Feel free to visit my web-site

  34. I was curious if you ever considered changing the layout of your site?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you
    could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.

    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two images.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

    Review my website ... Nike Air Max Pas Cher

  35. It's amazing for me to have a web site, which is good in favor of my experience. thanks admin

    Also visit my web blog;

  36. Attractive element of content. I just stumbled upon your weblog and in accession capital to claim that I
    acquire in fact loved account your weblog posts. Anyway I will be subscribing to your
    augment or even I success you get entry to consistently fast.

    Review my blog post - Air Jordan

  37. Hello there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my twitter group?
    There's a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Thanks

    Feel free to surf to my web page - Air Jordan

  38. Hello to all, as I am in fact keen of reading this blog's post to be updated regularly. It includes fastidious information.

    My website; Wholesale NFL Jerseys

  39. What's Happening i am new to this, I stumbled upon this I've
    found It absolutely useful and it has aided me out loads.
    I'm hoping to give a contribution & aid other customers like its aided me. Good job.

    Feel free to visit my site: Cheap NFL Jerseys

  40. Woah! I'm really loving the template/theme of this site. It's simple, yet
    effective. A lot of times it's hard to get that "perfect balance" between usability and visual appeal. I must say that you've done a superb job with this.
    Also, the blog loads super quick for me on Opera. Excellent Blog!

    Feel free to surf to my homepage - Air Max Classic Bw

  41. Good write-up. I certainly appreciate this site. Continue the
    good work!

    Feel free to surf to my homepage - Abercrombie

  42. Wow, marvelous weblog layout! How long have
    you ever been blogging for? you make running a blog glance easy.
    The overall glance of your website is wonderful, let alone the content material!

    Also visit my site cheap jerseys

  43. I am sure this paragraph has touched all the internet visitors, its
    really really pleasant paragraph on building up new blog.

    Also visit my blog Cheap Jerseys

  44. Whats up very cool blog!! Man .. Excellent .. Wonderful .
    . I'll bookmark your blog and take the feeds additionally? I'm glad to search out a lot of useful information here in the submit,
    we need work out more techniques on this regard, thank you for sharing.
    . . . . .

    my page ... Authentic Mario Lemieux Jersey

  45. I simply couldn't go away your website before suggesting that I actually loved the standard information an individual provide to your guests? Is gonna be back steadily in order to inspect new posts

    Feel free to visit my weblog;

  46. Hey there! Quick question that's entirely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My site looks weird when browsing from my apple iphone. I'm trying to find a template or plugin that might be able to
    correct this issue. If you have any suggestions, please share.
    Thank you!

    Also visit my homepage :: Converse Pas Cher

  47. Hmm it looks like your site ate my first comment (it was super long) so
    I guess I'll just sum it up what I wrote and say, I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog.
    I too am an aspiring blog writer but I'm still new to the whole thing. Do you have any recommendations for newbie blog writers? I'd genuinely appreciate it.

    My web site - Evgeni Malkin Black Jersey

  48. It can be very difficult to move forward with education if you dont follow the conventinal route - for my part I left school early.., took 3 GCSEs and didnt return to education till i was an adult. I did an HND as a personal advisor, and then was accepted onto a masters degree on the basis of my own research into Jewish-Christian relations, having completed my masters degree i cant get onto a PHd because i dont have an undergradute degree, and i cant get funding for an undergradute degree as i have a higher qualification.