Students offered access to Newcastle University with lower A-level grades because of their backgrounds are less likely to fail their exams and are at no greater risk of dropping out than other students, writes Alison Utley.
Interim figures show that among the first full cohort of "Partners" students from deprived or non-traditional backgrounds in Northeast England, five of the 120 students surveyed (4.2 per cent) failed or had to resit their exams at the end of the first year. This compares with an average of 8.5 per cent for the whole university. Some 5.8 per cent dropped out, which is in line with the average for all students at Newcastle.
Partners students in the university medical school, which took its first intake of ten in September 2002, performed better than average in all three areas assessed by their first progress test: skills, knowledge and understanding, and personal and professional development.
The university's Partners programme encourages widening participation among sixth-formers. There are a variety of incentives including a summer school, where the ability of the sixth-formers is assessed and may lead to the university making them a lower offer. Typically, this might be three grade Cs at A level, whereas the normal course requirement is three Bs.
Vice-chancellor Christopher Edwards said: "These results show our system of assessing student applicants on the basis of their potential rather than their A-level scores is capable of improving equity of access to higher education. Given the chance, a student from a disadvantaged background can do just as well as one from a more conventional one."
Steve Dudeck, a lecturer in the School of Architecture, which last year accepted five Partners students, said: "You really cannot tell the difference between Partners and the other students. They perform very well and, in fact, one of the Partners students is in our top 5 per cent for architectural design."