Call to ban students with poor English and maths from universities

The TES is reporting that a major international report has suggested students who are struggling with literacy and numeracy should not be able to go to university.

A traditional three-year degree course is costly and unsuitable for those who have difficulty with the basics, and having students graduate with low skills in these key areas “undermines the currency” of the qualification, according to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The study, which looks at literacy and numeracy skills in England, concludes that 7 per cent of 20 to 34-year-old graduates in England have numeracy skills below level 2, while 3.4 per cent have literacy skills below this level  – meaning that they struggle to estimate how much petrol is left in a tank from looking at the gauge, or have difficulty understanding instructions on an aspirin bottle…

“Those with low basic skills should not normally enter three-year undergraduate programmes, which are both costly and unsuited to the educational needs of those involved, while graduates with poor basic skills undermine the currency of an English university degree,” the report recommends.

These would-be students should be encouraged to take alternative, professional courses that will help to boost their levels of literacy and numeracy. More also needs to be done in universities to help students with intermediate levels in the basics to develop their skills…

The report, based on an international survey conducted in 2012, goes on to warn that while England has more young people graduating from university than many other countries, many young people here are not well-prepared for degree study as the basic skills of those teenagers who may go into higher education is much weaker than elsewhere…

The OECD warns: “In England, the weak basic skills of young adults compared with other countries can be traced back to a lower standard of performance at the end of initial education.”

“The priority of priorities is to improve the standard of basic schooling in England…”

More at: Call to ban students with poor English and maths from universities


I can’t find the report on the OECD website yet but the reports in the media suggest it is essentially saying we are doing a proportion of our young people no favours at all in letting them spend tens of thousands of pounds on degrees when they sound barely at GCSE level.

Do they make a fair point?

Please let us know why/why not in the comments or via Twitter…

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  1. Jet1577

    cherrylkd SchoolsImprove Aren’t they effectively already banned by not having passed GCSEs at grades that will get them in?

  2. The article wasn’t rehashing an old story as I suggested below.  Here’s the link to Building Skills for All:
    A Review of England The subtitle is ‘Policy Insights from the Survey of Adult Skills’
    When the Adult Skills Survey was published in 2013 the OECD warned the results should be used with caution.  That’s because the response rate in most countries including England and Northern Ireland didn’t meet the standard required.
    The OECD asked these countries to do non-response bias analyses.  England and NI didn’t complete all of these.
    That made the statistics dodgy in my view.  I wrote to OECD about it.  They still claimed the data was reliable enough but restated they should be used with caution.  This doesn’t seem to have happened in the review above.  There is no reference about using the data with care.

  3. Busy Mum

    Jet1577 cherrylkd SchoolsImprove That’s what I thought until doing the uni rounds  with my eldest son. The ubiquitous ‘access courses’ (and accompanying bursaries) for those without the appropriate GCSE’s left him wondering why he had bothered at all….. and seriously questioning the veracity of my parenting which had spent years telling him how important it all was…

  4. Busy Mum Jet1577 cherrylkd SchoolsImprove  The Access to Higher Education Diploma is a qualification which prepares people, mainly older ones, without traditional qualifications for study at university.
    Students have to pass the course and gain an accredited qualification.   Bursaries are available, yes, but they aren’t awarded indiscriminately.  Those who don’t receive bursaries get loans which have to be paid back.
    Access to HE gives people a second chance.  Something to be applauded, surely?
    And it doesn’t follow that someone on an Access course has low basic skills.  If they did then they wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) pass the course.

  5. Nairb1

    3.4% of graduates … people who have passed GCSE’s and A Levels (or equivalent) and have then successfully completed a degree course can’t understand the simple instructions on an aspirin bottle. Sorry, but I just don’t believe it.

  6. IanMoules

    SchoolsImprove How is “poor” defined? You would expect someone capable of doing a degree to have a decent standard in both.

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