Zanu NL & Social Engineering in Universities

From The Sunday Times August 17, 2008

Universities pay women to study science
Cash awards, often unrelated to merit, are being used to filll places on undersubscribed university courses

Jack Grimston
Women can win cash payments of £1,000 a year to study science as universities struggle to fill places on undersubscribed courses, an investigation has found.

An undercover reporter was told by Leicester University physics department that she was a strong candidate for the money partly because women were “underrepresented” on the course.

The policy, which critics argue is the result of “social engineering”, is evidence of the booming market in cash awards to fill some courses. Other offers made to reporters posing as applicants last week included an institution paying up to £1,000 cash to allcomers, regardless of their income. Another was offered £500 a year for choosing a less popular course.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of Buckingham University’s centre for education research, said using gender as a justification for offering money was “really quite alarming”.

“It’s all about the social engineering from government. The universities have to respond,” he said.

The inquiries about degree places were made during clearing, the method by which institutions scramble to allocate unfilled degree places after A-level results are released.

The process began last week following the publication of record A-level grades, which showed nearly 26% of exams resulting in an A and a further 25% scoring a B; 11% of teenagers scored at least three As.

The market in awards is unrelated to income and operates outside the usual hardship assistance given to students from poor families. They are often described as scholarships and linked to grades, although these are often not high.

Leicester is a well-respected university - ranked 19th equal in The Sunday Times University Guide - but physics courses nationally are hard to fill because there has been a near-halving of A-level pupils studying the subject in the past 25 years.

The department told the reporter that she had a strong case for £1,000 a year partly because she was from an “underrepresented” group as well as being a good candidate. About 30% of Leicester’s physics intake are women and, although this is above the national average, she was told: “You tick that box because you are female.”

Almost every undergraduate course in England costs students the maximum £3,145 tuition fee. Institutions have been reluctant to appear cheap, and they market the cash awards as scholarships, paying them directly into students’ bank accounts rather than reducing fee bills.

Northumbria University in Newcastle upon Tyne offered a reporter £1,000 a year simply to take up a place - the cash is not means-tested and is open to any British or EU student. The reporter told the staff member: “It’s a pretty good offer. It’s basically just cutting the tuition fees, isn’t it?”, to which the staff member replied: “Yes”.

Westminster University told a reporter he was highly likely to receive a “silver scholarship” worth £2,000 a year - if he had applied earlier, his three As would have won him twice as much money.

Hull told a reporter that grades of ABB were enough for a 50% fee reduction to study economics - worth £4,500 over the four-year degree because the university wanted to “encourage good students to come, people with grades like yours, we need more of them”.

Bangor offered £500 a year to a reporter to study subjects including chemistry, languages and law. “There is no condition,” said a staff member. “It’s to assist in recruitment of the sciences.”

Smithers said the boom in cash awards was because universities were “trying to lift themselves through the league tables and they are like a football team paying to attract new talent”.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “The shift towards a market in higher education is inevitably bringing about a consumer culture.”

All the universities contacted last week said financial incentives were a sensible way to attract talented applicants and that they had generous additional bursaries to help low-income candidates.

“It’s part of the reality for a competitive marketplace,” said Matthew Andrews, academic registrar at Oxford Brookes University.

Applicants to highly ranked institutions, by contrast, can expect no payment as thousands of applicants with three As are being turned away.

Independent and grammar pupils have dramatically widened their lead over comprehensives, with four or more As now commonplace.

Some of the strongest performances are at girls’ schools. Minette Monteith, 18, from Perthshire, left Cheltenham Ladies College in Gloucester-shire with five As.

Monteith, who has been talent-spotted as a potential rower for the 2012 Olympics, was turned down by Cambridge, Imperial College London, Ddinburgh and St Andrews. She won a place at Edinburgh to study medicine through clearing only last week. “I'm very happy with the course I’ve got now, but I didn’t really see what more I could have done,” said Monteith.

Additional reporting: Matthew Holehouse, Solvej Krause, Anjli Raval

A* danger

One of the government’s leading education advisers has warned that A-level reforms could entrench the advantages of independent schools and the best in the state sector.

Sir Mike Tomlinson, a former chief inspector of schools, said of the new A* grade and extended essay, intended to help universities choose the brightest pupils: “It is quite possible a larger gap will open up” because schools with the greatest resources will find it easier to impress tutors, particularly at Oxbridge.

A pilot for the reforms at Farnborough state sixth-form college in Hampshire has this year seen the proportion of students winning places at Oxford and Cambridge rise from 25% to 46%.

“The dons were quite impressed,” said Katharine Piddington, who has won a place to study medicine at Somerville College, Oxford, helped by her A* and extended essay.
I like the way the headline screams 'women can' then goes on to make clear that so can anyone. Shame, I expected better of The Times.

Sad to say marketisation is creeping into every aspect these days. Course which consistently fail to fill places are in grave danger of being closed and students (or more usually their parents) are becoming far more demanding about the 'product' they're purchasing. Tuition Fee discounts are the main way HEIs can attract the brightest students and the increased proportion of good degrees awarded is the main way to pull themselves up the league tables.

Having said that, if anyone at Leicester really did say that the reporter 'ticked all the boxes', they're unsavvy to say the least. Targeting the money toward a short-term lift in the gender stats when they're already above the national average for female participation? I bet their Director of Admissions will be having a few words on Monday.

P.S. The whole train of events was set in place by the Tories, not NL. Much as I like to damn this current shower, they're only carrying on the sterling work of their predecessors in making everything revolve around money.

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