Letter to the Editor: UCT welcomes scrutiny of Admission Policy

Written by Dr Max Price in Letters

I was pleased to read that Geoffrey Kilpin supports the basic principle and direction of the new admissions policy at the University of Cape Town (“UCT Admissions Policy: Too Much Too Soon?”, Varsity, 29 July 2014).  I note the points of criticism he raises concerning the strength of the data underlying the policy, how the policy will work and the weightings assigned to different indicators of disadvantage. I would like to address these.

Extensive research underlies the new admissions policy, overseen by the Admissions Policy Task Team which included students. It is not secret but there is no need for such in-house analysis to be published for external peer review. Anyone who would like to interrogate the work is free to do so by contacting Ms Jane Hendry in the Institutional Planning Department.

Mr Kilpin refers to “the small number of results of modelling exercises (testing the policy against previous applicant pools) made available.”  He refers to the three models I have used in my presentations of the new admissions policy to staff and students. But these were only to make the presentations manageable. Modelling exercises were completed for all UCT faculties as well as for many programmes within the faculties and are available to anyone on request.

Mr Kilpin criticises the exclusion of Afrikaans as a home language that receives points for disadvantage. This is an understandable complaint, given the number of coloured applicants who come from Afrikaans speaking homes and the probable negative impact this has on their marks if taught in English.  However, when we model giving disadvantage points for Afrikaans, this ends up favouring many more privileged white applicants than disadvantaged coloured applicants, thus leading to fewer coloured applicants selected. So we opted to leave Afrikaans off the list.

However, coloured applicants needn’t worry that this will harm their chances of being accepted into UCT. In the first place, we find many coloured students perform well enough to compete on the basis of academic merit. In addition, coloured applicants are eligible for a significant weighting of as many as 10 points if they come from historically disadvantaged schools (compared with a maximum weighting of six points for language). And finally, the new admissions policy allows for a target number of coloured applicants to be accepted on the basis of their race, if they achieve a minimum academic threshold, in order to fulfil a faculty’s transformation targets.

Mr Kilpin asks why we request information about government grants instead of simply asking an applicant about family income. This would certainly be a sensible measure of disadvantage, if it was not so difficult to verify. UCT’s admissions staff process more than 25,000 applications over a few months, in order to send out letters of acceptance in good time.  It is impossible, within that short time, to verify family income. By contrast, a social grant can be easily proven by producing the relevant document.

In summary, Mr Kilpin asks if UCT is trying to deliver “too much too soon”. We believe we have examined this thoroughly over the last several years and still have about 9 months to make further adjustments if necessary.

Moreover, as with the current admissions policy, it is not set in stone and will be adjusted every year as necessary.

Finally, my colleagues and I welcome all questions about the admissions policy. Those who are interested in the basic outline of the policy are invited to visit the Admissions Policy page on www.uct.ac.za.

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