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UK exam debacle: students demand college places that are already filled

UNITED KINGDOM — Universities and Colleges across UK are struggling to ascertain how to deal with the chaos over the recent A-Level examinations’ grading.

Some institutions are finding innovative ways to lessen the quantity of applicants as the number of students eligible for a placement exceeds the amount of seats available. For instance, Durham university is offering a cash reward to youngsters who are willing to defer their education for a year.

The current situation got this convoluted when schools shutdown due to the Coronavirus. Students were unable to take their final A-level examinations— a high-stakes exam that decides the college entrance in England and Wales.

Therefore, students’ grades would depend on the predicted scored given by their teachers. The scores would be based on past performance and practice A-level grades.

However, British education secretary, Gavin Williamson decided to review grades provided by teachers using an algorithm that would predict an individuals results by taking into account their school’s past exam performance. The designers regarded teachers as too optimistic about the potential of their students. They worried that the teachers predictions could result in “grade inflation.”

When the review was completed, approximately 280,000 predicted grades were downgraded. Only about 2 per cent of the marks increased.

This was met with protests by seething students as it seemed that the algorithm was biased towards pupils from more affluent backgrounds. This meant that many bright youngsters, who were from less wealthy families and schools that weren’t as well-off, were deprived of opportunities due to circumstances out of their control.

However, on Monday, Mr. Williamson agreed to accept teachers’ predictions after immense backlash. Gavin Williamson’s team acknowledged that they had made a major miscalculation. This was when their inherent bias towards the wealthy was brought to the spotlight.

Unfortunately, the upwards shift in student grades left universities befuddled.

In Britain, students list their preferred colleges and are offered places on the condition that they attain specific grades in their final school exams. With a sudden increase in their scores, students who had been rejected on the basis of the first, poor set of scores began demanding their ‘rightful’ positions due to their increased scores.

This meant that selective colleges were overwhelmed with applicants, while the less selective ended up having too few. While this may not seem like a colossal problem, it is one that could lead to multiple colossal problems.

Firstly, the excessive amount of eligible students could hamper plans for a socially distanced university— many U.K colleges are in the process of designing such environments. Secondly, if too many students defer by a year to avoid the current chaos then the students applying in 2021 will be met with similar such problems. Lastly, those institutions that ended up having too few applicants could go bankrupt as their main source of revenue is International students who are likely to be discouraged from travelling abroad due to the pandemic.

This crisis has brought to lighg UK’s reliance on an inadequate examination system that shapes many young peoples’ futures. It also highlights how unprepared the world is for such uncertain times, and how this unpreparedness can destroy many lives and dreams.

Reporter- Ananya Sreekumar

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