Down but not out

February 16, 2012

The article "Crisis, what crisis? Fall in applicants meets with indifference" (2 February) was informative in looking at the national decline in figures but it did not look into some of the wider issues that have led to changes in the pattern of applications. Specifically, several institutions chose to focus on raising their entrance tariffs, which will have had a resultant impact on numbers.

For example, here at the University of Surrey our overall decline in application numbers is mainly a result of an intentional strategy to drive up our entry standards, recognising that our average A-level grades at entry were AAB in 2011, with typical offers of AAB this year, eliminating the "tail" experienced in previous years.

For the five years up until 2011, applications to Surrey have more than doubled and we decided to focus on higher-quality student applications.

This decision was taken with the knowledge that it would result in a reduction of the size of the pool applying to Surrey. A reduction in the number of applicants is understandable given that some of the candidates who might have been considered last year would not now meet the entrance requirements.

At the same time we have seen a dramatic increase in applications in a number of subjects, especially among those in which we occupy top 10 places nationally, including physics and many engineering subjects. We have seen a further 25 per cent increase in the proportion of our applicants predicted to get AAB or above in the 2012 examinations.

As our overall strategy to increase quality pays dividends, it does not entirely surprise me that other university vice-chancellors are not as concerned as the media and public may have first thought.

Sir Christopher Snowden, Vice-chancellor University of Surrey

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