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Background checks on prospective students - yes, it's justified

3rd July 2012

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Recently, research has suggested that rising numbers of universities are conducting background research into the family life, history of education and parental education of potential students.

In my opinion, this is not entirely wrong. As most of us have learnt, university is a ‘step-up’ in the educational system – hence bearing the synonym of ‘higher education’. In most cases, admission into university requires a higher level of assessment, consideration and maturity than before.

Beforehand, an applicant is expected to perform extensive research into their uni choices, entry requirements and course. This helps us to cultivate a general understanding of an institution in terms of what will be expected of us and equally, what to expect from them. Reciprocally, I think an institution should have the right to know various things about an applicant before making an investment in a student.

I think this applies even more so to universities in The Russell Group, who have a particular representation to live up to and are expected to provide a higher academic standard. To maintain this level of prestige, their admission processes tend to be much more competitive and many applicants are met with elevated entry requirements, both academic and extra-curricular.

In the event that a student may not be able to fulfil their requirements, I think that it could beneficial for an institution to investigate possible hindrances presented by an applicant’s family life or the academic status of their current institution of study. Many would argue that such research lends universities a deeper empathy for an applicant thus adding a ‘human’ element to what can otherwise be a very brutal and regimented process. Success rates at A-levels, the IB and other qualifications can be influenced by a number of things such as teaching support, family issues and medical or psychological obstacles. I feel this it is necessary to investigate these as grades do not fully represent the ethos and potential of a student and individual.

Of course, this raises the question of whether one applicant could face losing their place to another on the basis that the former attended a school which attains ‘better grades’ than others. This would not necessarily
be the case; every case is unique and it can happen that a student can attend a poorly performing school and excel simple due to determination and hard-work. Another student can attend a prestigious school with greater opportunities, advanced teaching and achieve the same grades. However, it is possible the later may be considered more than the former because they have experienced a higher standard of education and will supposedly produce the same in higher education. This is not necessarily true and for many universities background research will help to eliminate or justify such decisions.

In this current economic climate we have seen a drop in application to university and it is becoming increasingly important to encourage students to invest in their future. In the case that the background research of an applicant shows a history of grades lower than average, a rejection informed by this could perhaps ‘save’ a student from wasting their time and money at uni and encourage an alternative career route such as an internship or training scheme.

Do you agree? Read the other side of the argument here

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