London: Eyeing a seat at Oxford or Cambridge University? Just prepare yourself for a battery of tough entrance tests.
Yes, for the first time, students applying to study courses such as English, philosophy, politics and economics at Oxbridge will have to sit for an entrance examination, The Daily Telegraph reported here today.
"Oxford's entrance exam for politics and economics, which gets 1,300 applicants each year, is designed to assess the ability to think critically, reason analytically, and use language accurately and effectively without having to rely on any particular subject knowledge," the university said.
While Oxford has recently introduced "aptitude" tests in subjects like physics, history, mathematics and computer science, at Cambridge, a number of prospective students take the "thinking skills" tests in economics and engineering. However, Cambridge authorities believe that every applicant should take the entrance tests as "A-levels are failing to identify the brightest candidates". "About a fifth of students doing A levels get three As. Cambridge is interested in the top five per cent. The A grade at A-level is no longer a good means of identifying a field of competitive applicants," Geoff Parks, the Director of Admissions at Cambridge, was quoted as saying.
The decision to introduce the entrance tests came as the Institute for Public Policy Research today published a report saying that both Oxford and Cambridge universities are unlikely to reach their targets for recruiting more students from Britain's state schools.
"Oxford and Cambridge need to be more pro-active. Students getting three A-grade A levels at state schools are significantly under represented at both universities. Oxford and Cambridge must stop blaming a lack of applications for failure to make progress," Lisa Harker, the Co-Director of the Institute, told The Times.
Last year, the two universities had signed pacts with the Office for Fair Access pledging to raise the proportion of students they take from state schools by 2011, but "their targets will not be met at Cambridge until 2012 and at Oxford until 2016", according to the study.
Oxford takes 54 per cent of its students from state schools. Its target is for 62 per cent of applications to come from state schools in five years. Cambridge takes 57 per cent of its students from state schools. Its target is for 60 to 63 per cent by 2011.
"Independent and grammar school students are more likely to have the right subject combinations that we are looking for at Cambridge," Parks was quoted as saying.