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Students starting university 'unprepared'

'Be an independent thinker and learner to thrive at university', say university admissions officers

Posted by Stephanie Broad | June 10, 2016 | Teaching

University admissions officers have highlighted a void between school and university study in the latest annual University Admissions Officers survey, launched at the International Baccalaureate Schools and Colleges Association (IBSCA) HE Advisors’ Conference in London. 

Asked how they thought students could be better prepared to thrive at university and successfully complete their degree, all respondents cited ‘by ensuring that they are ready to think and learn independently’. But 62% also believe that this single attribute is the one most often found missing in students.

The survey, now in its eleventh year, was commissioned by ACS International Schools, International Baccalaureate Organisation (IB) and IBSCA and conducted amongst university admissions officers at 81 UK universities between February and May this year. 

The survey also highlighted how Admissions Officers believe that success at university is down to students ensuring that they choose a subject they are passionate about. Fortunately, it seems that students are quite adept at doing this: just three per cent of admissions offers believe this attribute to be missing.

Jeremy Lewis, Head of School at ACS Egham, said: “Why are so many students starting university unprepared for this level of learning? Our study shows quite clearly that many of our exam systems are just not preparing students to make that leap from secondary to higher education. 

“There is a huge emphasis placed on the quality of the student experience at university nowadays, but the reality is that many young people are unable to access the right experience for themselves. We need to equip them with the skills to succeed in higher education, and develop their style of learning, but some exam systems are too narrowly focussed on subject content alone to achieve this. 

“As well as being prepared to think and work independently, students also clearly need to do their homework on course content and realistically ensure that they are able to cope with the challenges it will bring if they are to thrive and succeed at university.” 

In line with previous reports, admissions officers cite the IB Diploma as the best preparation for university. Rating three exam systems, A-levels, the IBDP and BTEC’s on 15 different factors, A-levels scored top in developing in-depth subject expertise; while the BTEC scored highest in developing workplace skills.  

The IBDP was rated top in developing 13 out of 14 factors considered useful in preparing students to thrive at university.  

Sandra Morton, Chief Executive of IBSCA, said: “It is clear that the IBDP is developing in students the attributes needed to thrive at university and to contribute positively to the workplace as they go through their careers. Vocational courses, which should also be doing this, are sadly failing to do so. 

“Pragmatic skills are just not enough - where is the creativity, the enquiry, the need to understand what it means to be operating in a global market place? 

“Interestingly 39% of admissions officers have cited an increase in applicants with a EPQ qualification this year – an additional qualification that mirrors the IBDP’s Extended Essay and the IBCP’s reflective project, which can give students additional UCAS points. This increase suggests perhaps that more schools and colleges are recognising the failure of A-levels alone to develop skills such as self-management which are so valuable in university and throughout our lives.” 

Dr Peter Fidczuk, UK Development and Recognition Manager at IB, said: “The IBDP puts great emphasis on independent enquiry, but also engagement and interest in a wide range of areas. University admission officers recognise the different qualities which IBDP students offer, and how important these skills are when student engagement and completion make such a huge contribution to the quality of the overall university experience.”

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