Letter: No apology for a summer of research

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The Independent Online
Sir: It was sad to see such a superficial analysis of the university admissions process in your leader. Much as I sympathise with the 40,000 candidates at present entering the uncertainty of the clearing system, I cannot see that any procedure requiring 400,000 candidates to be assessed and offered university places within a period of six weeks in August and September will improve the situation and "secure fairness and peace of mind for thousands of young people".

For all its faults our present system does ensure that over 85 per cent of candidates secure a place in a university of their choice in good time to organise their finances and accommodation; it enables students with special needs and disabilities to be assessed sympathetically; it allows overseas students time to secure visas and funding; above all, it fits candidates to courses which will suit them, producing a university student population with the lowest drop-out rate of anywhere in the world, which is the envy of all our competitors.

We would all welcome a post-qualification applications system and I only wish it was as easy to implement as you suggest. All we ask in Cambridge is that the process gives us time to interview all our candidates and select carefully: over 60 per cent of all our candidates achieve at least three A grades at A-level, and assessment by A-level grades alone would be unacceptable both to the colleges and to most students and schools. Equally, medical schools and universities offering teacher training courses all require personal interviews.

We could, of course, go back to the post A-level system which Cambridge operated happily for many years. This, however, required all students to take a year off between school and university. Alternatively, we could look at introducing a four-term year into schools. This suggestion has been much welcomed by many educationalists and parents, and would enable the final school examinations to be taken earlier in the year without a significant loss of teaching time.


Pembroke College, Cambridge