FROM splitting the atom to unravelling the DNA molecule, British universities have long been world beating. A single college at Cambridge University, Trinity, has produced more than three times (34) the combined total of Nobel winners generated by today’s educational superstars at school level – China (8), Taiwan (2) South Korea (1) and Singapore (0).
Our underperforming state school system and public examination shambles is inclined to distract us from an indisputable fact. At its very best, in the stratosphere of education, academic achievement in the UK is world-beating. For all the excitement surrounding the Pfizer vaccine, it likely to be a much cheaper and easier-to-store Oxford vaccine that protects the world against the Covid-19 virus. More often than not Britain is best when it comes to a crisis that needs solving by brain power; certainly, at an admirably elite level. Some of that intelligence is, admittedly and proudly, attracted to these shores from overseas.
Nor do I wish to write off, entirely, our failing school system. It is not by chance that some of the wealthiest parents in the educational superstar school systems of the Asia-Pacific seek to place their offspring in British independent schools. These are the very schools that our educational establishment loves to hate. Eton, Wycombe Abbey, St Paul’s, Winchester, North London Collegiate and the rest of our shining success stories in schooling need to stop apologising to the Blob for being global success stories.
Given the admirable, awe-inspiring and commendably brainy educational elite at the top end of both our schools and our universities, how strange it has been to witness years of abject failure when it has come to managing university entrance. Our best brains have been unable to cope with the challenge of working out a fair and reliable system.
Sub-atomic physics and cracking the DNA code are as nothing, it seems, when compared with the challenge presented by sorting out the quality of applicants. For long, the best that our finest brains have been able to come up with for sixth-formers (Year 13) has been to base offers on teacher-predicted A-Level grades. Our cleverest university brains have, at least, been able to work out the accuracy rate of these predictions. It turns out to be 16 per cent across a candidate’s three best A-Level grades!
For decades, many young people have suffered from, or been unfairly advantaged by, the grade-prediction system for university entry. Those from low socio-economic backgrounds have been most likely to be under-predicted. Now, finally, we have a breakthrough. After eighteen months of review, university leaders have come to the conclusion that applicants to their universities should be based on real exam results rather than predicted grades.
Yes, our educational boffins have finally cracked it! Another UK Nobel Prize must, surely, be in the offing.