University of Sussex Students' Newspaper

More universities demand applicants with A* A-levels

The Badger

ByThe Badger

Jan 31, 2011

More universities are asking for the A* grade at A-Level including the University of Sussex. Students wanting to study for an MPhys in Physics with a research placement will need to have an A* A-level qualification, and two A grades.

Students applying should have studied Maths and Physics, one of which will need to be an A*. Previously, the typical offer was AAA. The University of Sussex said that the course “is for a small number of academic high fliers who already know they want to pursue a research career. “This is the only Sussex degree programme for which we ask an A*. For all other programmes, we don’t require an A*.

“However, most offers for places at Sussex are now AAA, AAB or ABB. For offers at AAA and AAB we normally offer applicants alternative conditions that allow the inclusion of an A* (i.e. we’ll ask them to get AAB or A*BB, which both score the same number of total points). “In other words, we use the A* not in a restrictive way but as a means of recognizing exceptional achievement.”

However the university is not the only higher education institution asking for the A* grade for the first time. Bristol and Exeter will also ask applicants for the A* grade this year. Those wishing to study maths and economics at Bristol will require an A*. Similarly, Exeter’s entry requirements for economics include one A*.

Imperial College London, University of Warwick and University College London (UCL) have chosen to ask for more A*s from their applicants. At the University of Warwick, applicants hoping to study maths; maths and physics; politics, philosophy and economics will need an A* grade in one subject at least.

For those hoping to study psychology at UCL, they will need an A* in a science-based subject or maths whilst applicants for Imperial will require A*s in maths and further maths to study maths. The University of Oxford said that the entry requirements for 15 courses would request an A*.

Labour MP for Scunthorpe, Nic Dakin, was apprehensive: “Universities will have to be very careful about the way it is used. There is already a bias in the system against pupils from comprehensive schools. My fear is that this will further exacerbate this.”

The A* grade was introduced last year after the previous year returned A grades for a quarter of all A-levels. It is hoped that the new grade will help admissions tutors decide on the best candidates for courses. But headteacher of King Edward VI comprehensive in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, said: “It would have been better if universities had waited three years or so before asking for the A*. We don’t yet know how it works. We are running away with ourselves.”

To get an A*, students must get 90 percent or more in their overall mark. Last year, only one in 12 entries got the top grade. Critics of the new grade say that it is unfair for those in state schools as their private school counterparts received more A*s. Only 5.8 percent of pupils at comprehensive schools got the new A* grade whilst over 17 percent received the A* at private schools.

One EU national undergraduate said: “These changes make no sense as there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between an A and an A*. The expectations of universities nowadays are too high; focus seems to be more on how well a person does in an exam rather than how much they know about the topic they wish to study at university.”

The news comes after Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) reported a surge in applicants. Over 8,000 more students than the previous year applied via UCAS, marking an increase of 2.5 percent.

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