Best Of Both Worlds

The Race To Get Into University In The UK


You learn new things every day. For example, I have learnt not to assume that a girl who faints after getting her school results has failed woefully. The last couple of weeks have been manic as I have been rushed off my feet trying to help my young people at work to sort out their future. I call them ‘my young people’ because it is impossible not to get protective of kids when you teach them, even when they are eighteen years old. Two weeks ago was A level results week in the UK and decision time for those who planned to go to university, the last leg of a race which they started two years ago.

After two years of rigorous academic study, students sit their final A level exams and wait anxiously for results which will enable them to secure a place in a university. Applications would have been made to universities earlier in the year. Based on predicted A level grades, students are offered a provisional place at their chosen university, subject to actually getting the grades when results are released. ‘My young people’ i.e. the students I teach, along with hundreds of thousands up and down the UK got their results two weeks ago. Some screamed with happiness, a few burst into tears because they didn’t get the result they wanted and one girl fainted. She got three Bs when she had been predicted one grade C and two Ds and she was so overwhelmed by the good news that she blacked out!

A few of my friends and relatives have kids who applied for university this year and it has been a learning experience for them all. Majority of the parents were schooled in Nigeria and had no clue how the university admission system worked here and it  has been quite humbling for me to witness  the anxiety of  parents just before the results day and immediately afterwards, especially for those who also had to face the beast called ‘clearing’. Clearing is a process where students who do not get into their chosen university (because of lower- than- expected grades) try to find another university or course that will accept the lower grades.

Many immigrant parents, especially Nigerians, had to learn to use whatever connections they had to secure work experience for their kids before the kids completed their university applications. Universities look very favourably on candidates who have been able to demonstrate good understanding of the course they have applied for. Arguably the most important way of showing this is through work experience. For example, a student applying to study law would have done some work experience in a law firm or visited law courts. Students applying to study education needed classroom experience and those applying to study nursing had to have been on some work placement in a healthcare setting for at least two weeks.

This year, as in previous years, I saw many Nigerians pull together to help each other. I know of a Nigerian boy who had to go to Manchester from London during the Easter holidays so he could get work experience at his dad’s friend’s dental practice. My cousin’s daughter got work experience in healthcare at the care home where her pastor worked as Manager.

The system is also confusing in that if you applied to study Law at say, University of Birmingham which has an entry requirement of three As at A level, but you actually get 2 As and a B grade, you are unlikely to get into Birmingham university. This can be quite upsetting, considering that if you had applied to Nottingham Trent University to study law you would have been admitted because their entry requirement was 1 A and 2 B grades. In such a situation, a student might find that the only way to get admission into any university would be through clearing, provided there are still places. Competitive courses like Medicine, Dentistry, Pharmacy, Law and Engineering (otherwise known as ‘Pushy Naija/Asian parent’ courses) are never offered during clearance.

One of my friends wept when she called to tell me her daughter’s A level result. She didn’t get the right grades to study Criminal Psychology at Huddersfield University and they’d tried clearing and couldn’t get a place in any other university for that course. She claimed the system was racist and unfair. She was too upset for me to point out to her that although the system was rigorous; it was based mainly on merit. I certainly wasn’t going to tell her that perhaps if her daughter had achieved more than 2 Ds and 1E she would have had a better chance at getting into university.

I know it is very different from the system we went through in Nigeria. It may seem complex but at least it rewards hard work. You spend two years studying three or four subjects; you write exams in each subject and get a cumulative grade per subject. With the right grades you will get into the university you applied to. End of story. No amount of tears, bribes or connections will get you into a university in the UK.

I can’t but make comparisons with our education system in Nigeria. With lecturers on strike in many universities, it is sad to see the system that gave me and many generations before mine a sound education continue to disintegrate while no one seems to be doing anything to save it. Teenagers in Nigeria can’t trust that good grades will win them a place at university; lecturers can’t survive on just intellect and poor salaries; the rich send their kids to study abroad and lawmakers shun the education system and focus their attention on less important things.

We can always hope and pray for a radical overhaul of the education system. In the meantime, parents should be encouraged to do all they can to keep kids motivated. Not many parents can afford private or foreign education. Education is very important, but hard work even more so. I remember spending all my uni holidays and extended ASUU strike periods during my 5 year law degree doing work experience in my uncle’s law firm. It looked good on my CV when I started looking for work and I gained invaluable experience in that time. Whether kids are at school or uni, at home on strike or waiting for law school; awaiting admission or re-sitting exams; there are always opportunities to work hard. Help the young ones turn these periods of inactivity into learning experiences through work experience, learning skills and crafts etc. Let’s hope that someday, somehow, their hard work (and education) will take them to higher heights.

BTW: Friend’s daughter is now trying to get into a private uni in Nigeria to study Pharmacy. Haaa!!


Abi Adeboyejo lives in Birmingham, UK, with her two children and her fabulous man, who by the way, prefers that his wife writes down her thoughts than having to listen to her musings on everything.



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