A report by the Selecting for Excellence project group has found that fifty per cent of schools and colleges in the UK did not provide any applicants to study medicine at British universities in the last three years.
Half of those who applied to study medicine attended a private or grammar school, and 31% of all first year medics were privately educated despite only seven per cent of British school pupils attending a private institution. The report underlines a failure on the part of schools and universities to widen participation.
School rankings played a large part in determining the number of pupils who applied to study medicine at university. Eighty per cent of those who applied to study medicine came from just 20% of the schools in Britain.
The Selecting for Excellence project group addresses these disparities by suggesting ways in which schools can do more to support pupils who hope to study medicine at university. In their final report, the group admits that there is a long way to go towards understanding the barriers which prevent people from applying to study medicine at university.
The report recommends amending the existing entry criteria, which specifies that applicants must have completed a work experience placement prior to applying. Finding a work experience placement in a hospital is widely considered to be far easier for applicants who are raised in families in which there is already a practicing medical professional, which significantly disadvantages applicants from less privileged backgrounds.
The report advises universities on how to improve their admissions procedure, including asking for more information about the applicant’s background and personal circumstances; putting an end to discrimination on the basis of where a candidate is from in the country; and making it easier for prospective applicants to find information online about applying to study medicine and the availability of widening participation programmes.
The report concludes that the ‘MSC (Medical Schools Council) must commission research in 2015 to examine the impact of different weightings of admissions procedures on selection values and widening access’ and that ‘medical schools must work towards meeting the targets for increasing the numbers of students from a lower socio-economic background.’
The project group also acknowledges that applicants in rural areas do not have access to the same number of placement opportunities as their urban counterparts and that ‘more work needs to be done to identify geographical areas across the UK where young people do not have access to outreach programmes run by medical schools.’
The report suggests that there is a need to focus on different types of data in relation to the admissions process, in the hope that it will lead to an increased and widening level of participation by reducing the number of restrictions on applicants who do not meet the existing admissions criteria.
David Johnston, member of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission (SMCPC), told the Times Higher Education that medicine remained: ‘one of the most difficult professions to access for those from less privileged backgrounds, particularly when it comes to areas like work experience.’
The Selecting for Excellence project was established after the SMCPC Commission reported that medicine ‘lags behind other professions both in the focus and in the priority it accords to these issues,’ adding that ‘it has a long way to go when it comes to making access fairer, diversifying its workforce and raising social mobility.”