After students and alumni pressed Keble College to admit all students regardless of A Level results, the College is considering accommodation arrangements to increase their capacity.
On August 15th, Keble issued a statement that they were “not able to accept every offer holder”. Since then, Keble’s JCR President and a team of current students and alumni have written a letter to the College suggesting several alternative proposals for the accommodation of those offer holders who were not accepted. The JCR President has explained more in a statement posted to the students’ Facebook group.
The College has expressed interest in one of the proposals, asking a group of “up to 12” second or third year students to voluntarily move out of college into private accommodation for the coming academic year.
The JCR President has warned that “there will be some short term uncertainty with regards to accommodation for those who volunteer”. Whilst no guarantee has been given, “college anticipates they will be able to find accommodation for those 2nd and 3rd years that do help out in this situation.”
The JCR President has described this as a “very practical solution to the problem” that will remove the need for appeals, resits or deferred entry and allow those “who were rejected on the grounds of capacity” to study at Keble in 2020/21.
Students have been encouraged to volunteer before the College’s academic committee meets tomorrow morning. The JCR President explains this “would really help put forward a robust case to admit all Keble offer holders this academic year.”
These proposals come after significant backlash from the student community, both over the rescinding of offers and the College’s statement explaining its position.
In its statement earlier this weekend, the College stated it was aware “how the method of allocating grades without actual examinations would systematically disadvantage students from schools and neighbourhoods with less history of sending people to Oxbridge.”
However Keble argued that it had done all it could to accommodate these circumstances, stating that more offer holders than usual had met the necessary conditions. Noting how “Oxford revised the guidelines on clemency” to give “more even weight to indicators of social disadvantage”, the College argued it scrutinised cases on an individual basis, but was ultimately limited by available space. “The more students we admit this year,” the statement said, “the fewer we will be able to admit next year and the year after.”
The College is preparing to welcome a large and diverse cohort in October, stating “more offers were made to, and more students will come from, under-represented and/or disadvantaged neighbourhoods.”
This year, 70% of Keble’s undergraduate offers to UK applicants were given to students from state schools.
The College claims it will welcome those students who are successful in the appeal process, and intends to exercise sympathy when processing the applications of those taking their exams this autumn.
The statement followed growing pressure on the College to re-think its decision. Over 6,000 people have signed a petition calling for Oxford to reverse its decision to rescind offers to “state school ‘near misses’”.
The creator of this petition had her offer to read Geography at Keble College rescinded, after her results were downgraded from A*A*A* to AAA. She has expressed her frustration at the University for apparently not considering her background in its decision-making process.
The petition prompted an outpouring of support from the Keble College community, including a number of alumni.
An Open Letter from Keble alumni to the College has been published on Facebook. Responding to this petition, the letter called on the College to disregard the grades assigned by Ofqual and to “make a firm statement of support for those students unfairly disadvantaged by this national moderation process” and to “offer them places to study.”
The letter argues that Ofqual’s moderation process was flawed and has “entrenched systematic bias against students from lower performing schools and larger class sizes, regardless of individual ability.” Much more reliable as an indicator of ability, suggests the letter, is the admissions tests and interviews that former offer holders have already succeeded in.
Keble’s decision to rescind some offers has been particularly disappointing due to the extensive efforts made by Keble staff, students, and alumni to widen access through schemes like Keble At Large. The authors of the letter believe that rescinding offers will “totally undermine” the progress made by these projects.
Speaking to Cherwell, President of Keble At Large and JCR Access and Academic Affairs Officer, Busola Femi-Gureje, has described the University’s decision as the “antithesis of the message promoted by access schemes and initiatives” due to its reliance on a “biased” algorithm that appears to disregard the academic achievement of students in disadvantaged areas.
She stated “the situation this year feels even more unfair than previous years as students didn’t even get to sit the exams that resulted in them missing their grades.”
Being dissatisfied with the moderated grades is not grounds for an appeal under Ofqual guidelines. At the moment it is assumed that dissatisfied students will have to pay to ‘re-sit’ exams if they want to improve their grades.
Femi-Gureje has identified this as a “huge access issue”, warning about the unaffordable cost of re-sits. She adds, “Whilst it is not the fault of the University that the grading system is so flawed, this doesn’t really give much solace to those who have had to bear the brunt of its failures.” There are calls for the University to do more to support exceptional students and for greater transparency in the decision-making process.
Keble’s academic committee will meet tomorrow to further discuss the issue.
Keble College and Keble JCR President have been contacted for comment.