Separated By Admissions Policies

This may need explanation to US readers, but many UK universities’ admissions have closed before A-level results (like senior-year final grades combined with SAT results) have been posted. I have myself been baffled by passing references to admissions at Glasgow until someone sat me down and explained.
Back in the States, most institutions of higher education solicit applications for admission, since most are tuition-driven (and many that are not tuition-driven benefit from their selectivity). If you are in the midst of an economic squeeze and you can squeeze a few extra bodies into your classrooms, the additional tuition money is all to the good. Over here, however, the universities are publicly-funded, so that we have a limit on the number of students we can accept. Thus, if a great many students have already been admitted — say, students who have taken a gap year, or older returning students, or students whose qualifications became available earlier than English students (Scotland’s graduates got their “Highers” back a couple of weeks ago) — it’s quite possible, and in this case it actually has happened, that all the admissions slots have been taken before students learn their final marks.
As the industrial age begins to recede to the horizon in Europe and North America, one would think that government might realise that education (from primary through universities) provides the launching-pad for economic growth in a service- and information-dominated economy. Labour was talking the talk, at least, with their push to expand university attendance to 50%, but even they didn’t support universities sufficiently to make that goal materially possible. With the ConDems approaching the budget with all the gentleness of Freddy Krueger caressing a babysitter, the universities are in an even more serious bind. And we can’t admit more students to bring in tuition, because that comes from the government.
— With the result that we have to close admissions before all students have even found out how they did in their final year of school, lest we be penalised by the government.

9 thoughts on “Separated By Admissions Policies

  1. this is entirely news to me! i hadn’t realisezed that mrst US schools are admissions driven: at ther University of South Florida, where i I worked some 15 years, tuition covers less than 50% if every regular admission; thus the drive to limit the number of years–and classes–a student can attend.

  2. “87% of all statistics are made up on the spot.”
    I may have erred in submitting that most schools are tuition-driven; I’ve never before worked at a large publicly-funded institution. I, and many folks with whom I’ve talked, have worked mostly at institutions the budget of which depended greatly on admissions numbers (so that the spring and summer often involved eagerness to discover a rush of interested applicants). USF would be more like Glasgow, although I don’t recall ever having heard that public universities in the USA had admissions caps.

  3. I am reminded of a new policy the then chancellor of the University of Birmingham launched some years ago, aiming to get lots more students in in order to reap the extra per-head funding that he thought the places would bring. He called us all together and exhorted us to bring in as many as we could. So we worked our socks off, getting in a record number of undergraduates and then the places did not get funded — and we ended up worse off! It was a particularly unpleasant chapter in the history of that university; many said that the chancellor should have foreseen that the new places would not get funded.

  4. oh yes, admissions caps are why you see all those stories about kids not being able to get in! most state universities–and therefore most US universities. of course– cannot afford to let in anywhere near the number of qualified applicants, a situation made all the more complicated in places like florida, where a huge number of would-be students have pre-paid college plans–not to mention those much vaunted, lottery-funded, “bright futures” scholarships–all very fine, except there’s no room!

    i have a young friend who auditioned for a highly respected vocal performing arts program in western north carolina. they loved him, accepted him to the program on the spot, open arms, he was over the moon! except he never heard a word from the admissions office, even after repeated application, pleas, calls, emails, etc. now it’s august and he’s simply had to accept that he’s attending a 2-year college in north georgia instead: he still has heard nothing from carolina…

  5. OK, let me refine my point this way — over here, there isn’t a robust “private university” sector which might absorb the influx of students who aren’t able to fit into enrolment-capped public institutions.
    Whereas in the US, one can always go to the Grace L. Ferguson Aluminum Storm Door and Liberal Arts College (subject to aid and loans) if one can’t catch a place at USF — over here, if the universities are filling up to our enrolment caps, there’s nowhere else to go.

  6. > over here, if the universities are filling up to our enrolment caps, there’s nowhere else to go.

    They can come to America. Seriously, many state (public) Universities in the US want overseas students since they get charged higher tuition.

    On the flip side, many American students can get into a “better” university in Britain, since the top 360 American schools (our equivalent of “University” in the British sense) have many qualified applicants. The ratio of airfares to tuition has changed over the decades, making overseas schools economically comparable.

  7. Those are fair points, Matt, though students who stay within the UK pay such low fees — and times here are so hard — that it’s hard to think about heading to the US. I don’t recall hearing anyone on any of the news segments I’ve watched suggest studying overseas.

  8. Right. UK students pay £3,000 in fees (c. $4,500); no US university would be that cheap, right? Especially not to overseas students.

    I must admit that as an admissions tutor, I found Clearing really hard work. Although we sometimes got great students through Clearing, on the whole it was a bit of a lottery. It would be something of a result if we were full before the “A” level results were released to students, though for us it would always depend on what kind of quota we had, i.e. how many the university centre would allow us to admit (cf. my comment above about the problem over inflated quotas and the disaster it caused us one year in Birmingham).

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