What do universities think of the IB?

The benefits of this diploma are clear to see, but some misunderstanding still exists, says Lucy Tobin
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The Independent Online

Schools that have adopted the International Baccalaureate (IB) sing its praises to the heavens, but what do students and tutors think about IB graduates at university level?

Emily Cole, 20, who studied the IB at the Toronto French School in Canada and is in the final year of a degree at Oxford University, says that a lack of knowledge of the IB course is limiting its benefits. "When I came to university, my tutors had very little idea about the IB and how it works," she says. "The difference between standard and higher-level courses isn't understood, so they didn't know where to place me in a language course and they made me start again."

That's a view countered by Jan Stockdale, dean of undergraduate studies at the London School of Economics (LSE), who says that the breadth of the IB Diploma has always appealed to LSE selectors. "We find that because the IB is intellectually and personally demanding, it provides a very good springboard for study at university level," she says.

Simone Caplin, 19, is in her first year studying Spanish and Russian. She opted to study the IB at North London Collegiate School, which runs the course alongside A-levels, but says that while she has reaped benefits from the IB, they didn't last long. "Doing the IB, I studied a subject I would never have chosen for A-levels - English literature.

"The extended essay was good practice for university essays because I had to produce a long piece of researched writing. But the advantages didn't last long; after writing a few university essays, you begin to get the hang of it, so I only got a very slight head-start."

UCL fresher medic Shruti Patel says that compulsory arts involvement in the IB has helped her science degree because she had the opportunity to develop essay-writing skills that are not emphasised in science A-levels. "I knew I was going to specialise in medicine early on, so I wanted to continue with subjects that I loved, like French, for as long as possible," she says. "That scope is helpful. When it comes to writing essays, students who haven't done arts subjects find it more difficult. And the presentations that were part of the IB programme have also helped when I've had to introduce topics to large groups at university."

The breadth of the IB is not universally appreciated. Venetia Rainey, who is studying English and history at the University of York, has found the span of the IB left gaps in her knowledge. "I sometimes feel like, for my degree, I didn't study enough history," she says. "I regret the limited amount of poetry studies at IB."

But students also saythat the workload and emphasis on independent learning in the IB means less of a leap when moving to studying at university. Manuel Schnabel, who studied the IB at the International School of Basel in Switzerland, and is in his second year studying materials science, found the IB harder than the start of his degree. "IB maths at higher level seems more rigorous than A-level, so my first maths lectures here were really easy," he says.

Since an IB student focuses on six subjects - alongside compulsory modules in the theory of knowledge, creativity, action, service, which involves 150 hours of sport, volunteering and creativity - and the completion of a 4,000-word essay, they come out of school with a broad education. It's that which Roy Bradshaw, an admissions tutor at Nottingham University, says he appreciates in his IB students.

"We're out to educate students for their whole lives, not for the bean-counting government statistics," he says. "The range of the IB not only helps students while they are at university, but also leaves them better equipped to deal with the wider world - and that's reflected in their studies."