Thursday 20 February 2014

Thumbs-down to the policymakers at Leeds University Admissions

During that critical period between year 11 and year 13 at high-school, Ben missed a heck of a lot of school. During year 11 he was plummeting into anorexia and ended up studying for his GCSEs at home while battling with this terrifying descent into a serious eating disorder. He never, ever managed to get back into school full-time. In an ideal world Ben - a highly articulate and intelligent young man - was predicted to get AAA at A-level. In the event, he got BBB plus an A in his Extended Project Qualification. Considering what he'd been through, this was an amazing feat and one that Sheffield University obviously recognised as they pointed us towards their Disrupted Studies scheme which is aimed at people who, like Ben, "have experienced issues of a personal, social or domestic nature that have affected either your post-16 studies, or any GCSE subjects that cited in our course entry requirements". We supplied all the relevant information and Ben won a place at Sheffield, a 'Russell Group' University like Leeds University.

But, as you know, Ben is finding it mega tough to settle into life at university away from home. Although the eating disorder side of things is relatively OK, he is receiving therapy and medication for depression - a result of the aftermath of the anorexia. As a result both he and I contacted Leeds University (our local university) to see if he could transfer there. Same course, same entry requirements, similar university, yet - despite a lovely lady from student admissions who we've been corresponding with - without the same flexibility when it comes to entry. Or at least transfer from a similar university.

Leeds University do have flexibility if you're a brand new potential undergraduate and, for similar reasons to Sheffield's Disrupted Studies scheme, you need to study in your home town. But they'll only drop one of the grades. So, if they normally require AAA, they'd perhaps accept AAB under the Leeds University Access to Leeds scheme.

So, despite the massive battle with anorexia during these crucial school years, Leeds has said that Ben wouldn't be able to transfer to the same degree course.

How about a joint honours course, then, with lower entry requirements?

Unfortunately not - because the Access to Leeds scheme isn't available to students with experience of higher education (i.e. who are already at another university), even if they transfer back into Year 1. The only other option would be to consider another academic institution that required lower grades to see if they would be willing to accept a transfer.

I don't know whether the same would apply if Ben were a Leeds student wanting to transfer to Sheffield under their Disrupted Studies scheme. But I do know that Sheffield took his Grade A EPQ into account as part of the entrance requirement. Leeds does not.

In my opinion, this feels like discrimination. Ben is expected to have got the same grades as he probably would have got had he not been through a prolonged period of serious illness and missed so much schooling.

I can't see the difference between requesting a transfer and considering re-taking the year - and being a new potential undergraduate. Why make allowances for one but not the other?

Frankly, I would like to see Ben remain in Sheffield. Thus far the university has shown itself to be mega sympathetic to his predicament. It's a lovely place and the supporting student services staff are wonderful. Sure, the lady I spoke to at Leeds University was very nice, helpful and sympathetic, too, but her hands were obviously tied. 'Rules is rules', it seems...

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