Russell Group urges Government to support university quality in A-level results week

18 August 2010

With many issues to be aired in the light of the increased competition for university places, the Russell Group urges the Government not to lose sight of the overwhelming priority to ensure the continued international competitiveness of our research-intensive universities and the high quality student experience they offer.

With Thursday’s widely anticipated A-level results dominating the headlines about higher education, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities says,

On the reality of the competition for places:

“A-level students deserve our congratulations for all their hard work.  This year, securing the university place they want will have been particularly tough.  We mustn’t forget, however, that university entry has always been a competitive process—particularly for places at Russell Group universities. The myth that tuition fees deter students from applying to university has been demolished by this year’s record applications.”  

On the importance of investing in quality rather than quantity:

“When universities are already dealing with £1 billion in cuts there are tough choices to be made. Whatever ideals we may hold, it is simply not realistic to think that the country could afford—within the current HE funding system—to offer a properly funded university place to everyone who would like one.  

“In a tight fiscal climate, maintaining the quality of the student experience must be a greater priority than expanding the number of places. We must not try to spread limited funds too thinly otherwise we risk short-changing students, employers and, ultimately, the country as a whole which relies on universities to create the growing, knowledge-based economy we need to recover from the recession.  

“If we allow investment to fall behind our international rivals, we will lose our ability to attract the world-class academics, vital business investment and leading international students.”

On the admissions process: 

“Almost all applicants to Russell Group universities have excellent academic credentials and it can be challenging to choose between the large numbers of strong candidates who apply.  Academic qualifications (e.g. GCSE grades; AS scores; A-level predictions) are an extremely important source of information about academic ability.  But a candidate's academic success is considered in a broader context.  Russell Group admissions tutors are skilled at reviewing information on candidates which is fair, accurate and relevant in order to identify those with the most talent and potential to excel on our courses—whatever their social or educational background. They are constantly seeking to develop the most effective ways of identifying candidates with real potential.  

“Although there has been a real increase in numbers of students at our universities from lower socio-economic groups we remain concerned about their under-representation and that more needs to be done to tackle the underlying cause of this which remains poor educational achievement at school. 

“It is crucial that all students are given appropriate information and guidance about the choices that will maximise their potential from an early age.  Key to this are their subject choices.  Too few students from state schools are opting for STEM (and particularly single science) subjects at GCSE, advanced level and university. This is despite the fact that STEM graduates earn more on average than others and numeracy skills are essential for many courses at leading universities particularly in engineering, economics and medicine.”

Notes for editors

  1. The vast majority of Russell Group universities, for example, use personal statements and references when assessing candidates. Some departments also interview candidates or ask them to sit additional tests, particularly for the most competitive courses like Medicine or Law, to give the applicant a further opportunity to demonstrate their strengths or a real interest in the subject. These strengths may be demonstrated by a range of achievements including prizes from challenging competitions. Others take into account any particular barriers the candidate may have faced during their education such as spending time in care.

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