What are universities really looking for?

A reasonable grasp of maths and an ability to think and work independently have moved right up the university admissions agenda

Twelve months ago, just 44% of admissions officers considered a reasonable grasp of maths either important or very important compared to 72% in this year’s survey; and while 72% felt the same way about an applicant’s ability to think and work independently in 2013, this requirement has increased to 87% this year – a rise of 15 percentage points, according to the latest annual research commissioned by ACS International Schools amongst university admission officers and released today.

Fergus Rose, Head of Marketing and Admissions at ACS International Schools, commented: “It’s very clear that universities are looking for greater skills and commitment from their applicants; just as students demand more of the university experience, universities are now looking for students who are better equipped to contribute more and cope better with the rigours of university life and learning.”

The top attributes University admission officers look for in addition to academic qualifications and grades are: evidence of a passion for their chosen course subject (98%); a positive attitude towards study (95%); and good written English (94%). These were followed by the ability to think and work independently (87%) and a reasonable grasp of maths (72%).

Increasing the nation’s maths skills is a government target as only 20% pupils in England currently carry on studying maths at any level after GCSEs – the lowest rate of 24 developed countries.

The ACS survey shows that while university admissions officers are certain of the need for better maths skills, they are yet to be convinced that a workable solution can be found.

The research also explored admission officers’ views of different qualifications and the foremost exams – A levels and the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme (IBDP) – in particular.

With over 26,000 students, one in 15, failing to complete their first year at university according to the latest stats from Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA), it is notable that 28% of admissions officers believe the International Baccalaureate Diploma (IBDP) provides the best preparation to thrive at university compared to just 8% who cite A levels.

“Barely a week goes by without some Government or media reference to the strength of the International Baccalaureate’s Diploma as a benchmark for other qualifications.   The fact is, to deliver the IB Diploma’s depth and breadth takes more teaching time, and more commitment from the student.  Rather than tinkering with A levels and creating a ‘bacc light’ schools should be given the right funding to allow them to have the real thing – the IB Diploma.”

The research, now in its ninth consecutive year, was conducted with 99 admissions officers (80 in the UK and 19 in the US). In the UK, the sample covered around a third of all universities from across the Russell Group, Million Plus Group, Guild HE & Associates and University Alliance.

The survey was carried out on behalf of ACS International Schools by an independent organisation working to Market Research Society (MRS) standards.


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