Work Experience and the UK University Admissions System: Comparing UCAS Statements According to School Type

This seminar focused on the role of work experience on UCAS Personal Statements.

Abstract: The announcement of higher fees for the UK Higher Education (HE) sector from 2012 brought with it renewed emphasis on non-academic indicators in the admissions process. In addition to assessing ‘headline’ A-level grades, the UK’s Minister of State for Universities and Science, David Willetts, urged admissions tutors to consider applicants’ “potential” (Dearing Lecture, 17/2/11), thereby echoing Schwartz’s (2004) recommendation for more “holistic” evaluation. This paper focused on the most commonly used non-academic indicator, the UCAS Personal Statement and, in particular, the descriptions of Work Experience that it contains. The focus of previous research (e.g. GlenMaye and Oakes 2002; Brown 2004) has been on the degree to which statements are an accurate predictor of future performance. This paper, by contrast, assessed how they differ according to the educational background of the applicant, with particular attention paid to the quality and quantity of the Work Experience cited, and the ways in which experiences are characterised. Drawing on a corpus of 309 UCAS statements, each tagged according to the applicant’s school type and controlled for academic attainment, the Personal Statement was examined in terms of cultural, social and economic capital. The goal was to bring empirical evidence to the broader debate about admissions, and to revisit the role that Work Experience, as expressed through the UCAS Personal Statement, has played in the admissions process.

Biography: Steven Jones is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Manchester. His current research focuses on Higher Education, especially in relation to issues surrounding access, fairness and government policy. He is also published extensively in the field of Linguistics.
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