Current Affairs

In or out? Oxford colleges split over A-Levels admissions policy

“It’s the morally right thing to do.” These were the words of Worcester College Admissions tutor, Professor Laura Ashe, speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

The college was the first to announce that they would respect all offers made to students, irrespective of whether they had been downgraded by the A-Levels algorithm which has caused so much controversy in recent days. They have since been joined by Jesus, New College, St Edmund Hall, Exeter, St Hugh’s, and Wadham College, in confirming the places of all UK offer-holders for either this academic year or next.

She added: “As these students were not going to have sat any exams there was not going to be any new information that could justify rejecting someone to whom we had already made an offer.”

So, what have been the responses of the other Oxford colleges?

Balliol: Whilst the college said that 12% of its intake for next year will be students “admitted as a result of flexibility shown by the college,” it has not decided to follow Worcester’s suit. In an updated statement on Monday, the college said that it had confirmed the places of all UK offer-holders from state schools or a “disadvantaged background.” As a result, the college’s UK intake this year will be comprised of 72% state-school students.

Brasenose: The college said that due to the exceptional circumstances, its intake this year will be 9% above the average, with 79% of UK confirmed students coming from state schools. In a statement, Brasenose added that it had, “reviewed all misses individually and in the great majority of cases confirmed places. The reviews took into account interview and test scores plus relevant contextual information.”

Christ Church: The college said in a statement on Saturday that the majority of its offer holders, including 93% of those from state schools, were accepted, and that the admissions process, “offered more clemency than in any other year we have on record.” In addition, all students nominated for its new access scheme, Opportunity Oxford, were accepted into the college.

Corpus Christi: No statement as of writing.

Exeter: In an updated statement on Monday, the college said: “In the light of concerns regarding the process by which “grades” have been awarded and moderated we sought and obtained additional data on the grades that the offer-holders’ own schools and assessment centres had awarded them.” It added: “Following this process, we are pleased to announce that Exeter College will admit all UK offer-holders. “

Harris Manchester: The college only admits students who are 21 years old or above, so the college will not have been affected by this year’s A-Levels results process.

Hertford: The college said that 81% of its intake for next year will be from state schools, and that it had been able to accept, “the majority of our offer-holders who did not receive grades which fulfilled their original offer conditions.” It added; “Like our colleagues at other colleges, we will be pleased to honour a deferred place to unsuccessful offer holders who are assigned the necessary grades following an appeal.”

Jesus: In a statement released on Monday, the college said that, “Over the past few days, the Academic Director has worked tirelessly with Tutors and University Departments to review, on a case-by-case basis, the remaining 2020 offer-holders whose place had not yet been confirmed at Jesus College.” Having now updated their policy to the same level as Worcester’s, the college added: “We are now able to announce that we have confirmed places for all our 2020 offer-holders, for either this year or next year.”

Keble: In a lengthy statement, Keble said that whilst it has not accepted every offer-holder who missed out on their grades, the college will be taking in a record number of freshers this year, adding that 70% of offers made to UK applicants were from state schools. The statement continued: “The more students we admit this year, the fewer we will be able to admit next year and the year after…We have tried to be fair to the current generation of school-leavers and we must also strive to be fair to the next generation.”

Lady Margaret Hall: LMH Principal Alan Rusbridger announced that 97% of all 2020 offer holders have had their places confirmed at the college, including 93% of those who did not achieve the grades they need to meet their conditional offers. He added, “We have gone to great lengths to understand any mitigating circumstances where candidates did not meet their predicted grades – and have more than doubled our rate of “clemency” this year for candidates who were “near misses” – including those affected by algorithmic adjustment.”

Lincoln: Whilst the college announced that it had been able to confirm the places of the majority of offer-holders, it added that it was, “still waiting for information from a very small number of schools and, given the numbers involved, we are not currently able to provide further details concerning our admissions.” Only 59% of students from the UK who have been confirmed a place at Lincoln this year are from state schools, a 4% rise on the 2017-19 average.

Magdalen: In a statement released on Saturday, Magdalen College announced that it would not be following Worcester’s lead, citing “constraints on teaching capacity in both colleges and departments, together with challenges in providing accommodation with appropriate facilities to meet the requirements of health and safety, particularly during the current pandemic.”

The statement continued, “Magdalen has been able to grant places to the majority of offer-holders who did not satisfy the conditions of their offer. We are watching the evolving situation closely, and we will be following the University’s policy in considering any appeals that we receive.”

Mansfield: The college, well-known for its large state-school intake, announced that 90% of its freshers will come from non-selective state schools, with 40% coming from the most disadvantaged groups. Not all offer-holders have been granted clemency, though the statement did say that those students who successfully appeal to a higher grade will be guaranteed a deferred entry for the 2021-22 academic year.

Merton: On Monday, the college announced, without providing specific details; “we so far have admitted virtually all of those students whose results were not as they had hoped. Students were written to on results day and informed of that decision.” It added: “Merton’s intake this year for UK students has the largest representation from State schools in the College’s history at 70%.”

New: The college said that it only had a very small number of offer-holders who did not meet the grades they needed to have their places confirmed on Thursday. However, after reviewing each case, New College announced on Monday that it had decided to confirm places for all UK offer-holders.

Oriel: In a statement on Monday, the college announced that it has not confirmed the places of all of its UK offer-holders, and that, “As in normal years a few candidates missed their offers by a small margin.” However, Oriel stated that it has, “grant clemency to all of those candidates we identified as most disadvantaged and to all Opportunity Oxford candidates” It also guaranteed deferred entry in 2021 for those offer-holders who successfully appeal their grades.

Pembroke: Taking a different line to most other colleges, Pembroke announced that it has, “admitted all candidates who missed their offer by one grade.” Further, around 20% of its intake this year will be comprised of students who missed their required grades. The statement added; “Pembroke is proud of its diverse and inclusive community, which in 2020 will see 70% of its UK student intake coming from state schools; our highest intake ever and with one third coming from the most disadvantaged groups.”

The Queen’s: Queen’s was the college with the lowest number of offer holders missing out on grades, and in a statement, the college said it is, “accepting its largest ever intake of undergraduates and amongst UK undergraduates the proportion that come from state schools is the highest on record.” The statement did not give details regarding the number of students who have not been admitted this year.

Regent’s Park: No statement as of writing.

St Anne’s: The college said that it has admitted more offer holders who did not achieve their grades than ever before, and of the 27 offer holders who missed the grades required, 19 of them have been admitted into the college anyway, leaving 8 who have not. Citing the reasons for not admitting all offer-holders, the college said that it, “does not have the capacity to do so and also because not all of them come from schools that have been disadvantaged by this year’s system, which has awarded more top grades overall.”

St Benet’s Hall: No statement as of writing.

St Catherine’s: In a brief statement, the college admitted it had already exceeded its target entry for 2020, but that it is, “currently exploring the possibility of other options in response to the complex and rapidly changing situation.” The college also guaranteed places in the 2021-22 academic year for students who successfully appeal their grades.

St Edmund Hall: Following Worcester’s lead, in a statement on their website, the college said; “To alleviate the anxiety and uncertainty surrounding the appeals process, and uphold our strong strategic commitment to access, equality and diversity in our admissions process, the college has taken the decision to make offers unconditional for all applicants whose places were not originally confirmed, and welcome them to the Hall.” It added: “Wherever possible, we will make places available for these students to start this October as originally planned.” However, it added that given capacity constraints, some students may be required to enter at the start of the 2021-22 academic year instead.

St Hilda’s: The college announced on Monday that; “As a consequence to these unusual circumstances we have admitted more offer holders who did not achieve their grades than ever before, with 11% of our intake for 2020 accepted as a result of clemency decisions (of these 75% had dropped one grade and were from disadvantaged backgrounds).” It added: “St Hilda’s will offer places for 2020 until the courses are full, if our offer holders’ appeals are successful, after which deferred places for 2021 will be offered.”

St Hugh’s: Joining Worcester and several others, the college announced on Monday: “It is our belief that this year’s formal gradings do not provide any additional evidence of these candidates’ abilities. We have therefore concluded it would only be right in the circumstances we face this year to trust the assessments of our tutors made in offering places to these candidates and to this end St Hugh’s College will admit all offer-holders who were unable to take their A-Levels examinations this year.”

St John’s: “Most St John’s offer-holders in fact met their conditions despite the extraordinary circumstances,” reads the statement from St John’s, though it has not followed Worcester’s policy. Rather, the college said, “the St John’s admissions team has reviewed each case in great detail, taking into account all the other performance measures available to us.”

St Peter’s: The college announced on Monday that it has confirmed a record number of places for offer-holders who missed out on their required grades, including 100% of offer-holders from state schools, who have all had their places at the college confirmed. However, for the offer-holders who have not met their required grades, St Peter’s has guaranteed their place starting in the 2021 academic year, if they successfully appeal their A-Level results.

Somerville: In a statement on its website, the college said that it had “extended ‘clemency’ to as many students as possible, seeking throughout to support those students who are statistically least-represented at Oxford.” As with several other colleges, Somerville guaranteed places for those students who successfully appeal their grades, to enter in the 2021-22 academic year.

Trinity: The college released a statement on Sunday, stating: “Trinity is on course to admit in October its highest ever proportion of UK state school students, with 68% of our incoming UK students coming from the state sector.” Whilst 100% of offer-holders from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have had their places confirmed, Trinity admitted that it was,”giving careful consideration to the small number of offer holders in the current admissions round whose places we have not yet been able to confirm on the basis of the A level or other qualification grades awarded this summer.”

University: The college’s statement said that it has, “adopted a clement approach to those who were not assigned the necessary grades in as many cases as we reasonably can.” In addition: “We have been particularly mindful of the disproportionate impact the pandemic is likely to have had on the educational opportunities of, and the A Level grades assigned to, those who come from socio-economically and educationally disadvantaged backgrounds.” It is unclear, however, what percentage of offer-holders have missed out on a place, though the college has guaranteed deferred entry to successful appellants.

Wadham: The college joins Worcester in admitting all 2020 offer-holders, however, in a statement, it added: “Those applicants whose courses are now full will be guaranteed deferred entry for 2021.”

Worcester: Worcester was the first college to announce that it had confirmed the places of all its UK offer-holders, irrespective of their A-Level results. The college’s new intake will be its most diverse cohort ever, with 83% of its offer-holders studying at state schools.

Wycliffe Hall:  No statement as of writing.

This article was updated at 19:27 on 16/08/20 with a statement from St Edmund’s Hall. It was further updated at 21:40 on 16/08/20 with Trinity College’s statement.

Statements from Brasenose College and Lincoln College were added in an updated version of this article at 10:45 on 17/08/20. Jesus College’s updated statement was added at 12:16 on 17/08/20. The article was updated at 13:29 on 17/08/20, with New College’s statement. An updated statement from Exeter College, as well as a statement from Oriel, were added at 15:32 on 17/08/20. St Peter’s statement, and Balliol’s updated statement, were added at 15:47 on 17/08/20. At 16:00 on 17/08/20, St Hilda’s updated statement was added. Merton College’s statement was included at 16:34 on 17/08/20.

This article was updated at 08:31 on 18/08/20 with St Hugh’s’ statement.

Max Spokes

Max (he/him) is Environment News Editor at The Oxford Blue for Hillary 2021. He is in his second year studying History and Politics at Balliol.