It is a very interesting time at the moment for UK universities, particularly their stance on international applicants. With the impending wide-reaching impacts of Brexit, the past year has seen universities make more unconditional offers to students than ever before. Indeed, many universities have taken the unprecedented step of offering students unconditional, or lower offers, on the basis that the student chooses them as their firm (first) choice. Although there is no legislation around these practices, it sets an interesting, and potentially dangerous, precedent for the years to come.
Add to this the disruptive impact of new universities coming into the fray such as the New College of Humanities and the London Interdisciplinary school, an ongoing discussion of potential fee structure changes, and, crucially to IB students, fundamental changes to the IB Maths syllabus, and it paints a very complex picture for IB students, teachers and parents in the coming 2-5 year period.
Below, we carefully assess the information we’ve compiled, through our engagement with a global base of IB schools and educators, recent IBSCA Higher Education conferences, and ongoing research in discussions with UK universities.
The IB & UCAS
Historically, UK university applications were seen as the less complicated option in comparison with the US.
UCAS has always been incredibly ‘pro’ IB, so it is a case of resolving how well certain universities understand the IB points students are being asked to obtain.
We work with schools and families all around the world applying to the UK and have compiled a matrix which details the IB entry requirements to the top 50 UK universities. We’ve recently updated this to detail any specific HL requirements, as well as any external tests you may need to sit, and the dates by which these need to be completed. This is viewed by 1,000s people around the world on a regular basis and is exactly the kind of thing we would have craved as IB students ourselves.
More students mean better informed decisions
Despite a couple of anomalies, I would argue that UCAS understands how difficult the IB is, but that universities are still playing catch up. This is improving year on year as more and more IB students apply through UCAS. The old UCAS weighting system effectively said that 45 points were the same as 5 A*s and an A at A-level. I know a few 45 pointers but have never met anyone with 5 A*s and an A at A level. Moreover, the IB’s consistency in approach offers a robustness that A-levels have lacked over recent years; however, the introduction of the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) moves A-levels towards a more diverse educational programme.
Fundamentally, our research has shown us that if more students apply with IB scores, universities are more ‘accurate’ with their point requirements.
A fantastic example of this is King’s College London, which originally asked for 38+ points for many of their subjects. But, as of 4 years ago, King’s changed their points requirements to 35 points across the board. Consequently, Kings has more IB graduates than any other university in Europe, and are unashamedly pro-IB. At a recent IBSCA conference, Head of Admissions, Paul Teuton, held no punches in his love for the IB – King’s 2029 ambition of becoming more interdisciplinary focused is pulled heavily from the IB’s teaching philosophy.
It is important to be aware that some parents and schools will assign ‘value’ purely based on the entry requirement, rather than the true value of the course. For example, a 37 point entry requirement could be considered superior to a 34 point entry requirement, but this does not take into account measures such as student satisfaction, employability or teaching quality, which give a better indication of the quality of the degree. Measures such as the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) explore these areas and are definitely worth reading about if applying to university soon. Our upcoming university research report will also go into this in far more detail – please contact us for more information on this.
The impact of the new maths syllabus
Over the past year, we’ve delivered presentations on the IB & UK universities in over 40 cities and at countless schools. At each of the talks we’ve given over the past year, and indeed many of the school meetings, one of the most commonly asked questions is “what are the impacts of the new maths syllabus?” This is a question that will be answered more robustly over the coming year, but we do know that IBSCA is working exceptionally hard to teach UK universities about the new Maths changes.
For those not aware, the IB is changing what used to be 3 maths levels (Higher Level, Standard Level and Studies) into 2. The new courses are titled Analysis & Approaches and Analysis & Interpretations, with each one being offered at HL and SL:
Although the below graphic is a simplification, it paints a picture of the potential impacts.
However, until universities have worked with enough students who have taken the two different routes, it is very hard for them to create robust entry criteria, and it is likely that these criteria will change over the course of the coming year or two. At the recent IBSCA HE conference, the University of Warwick confirmed that they will be asking for an HL 7 in Maths A&I (effectively, applied Maths) but only a 6 in Maths A&A (pure Maths) for their Engineering courses (2020 entry). I would not be surprised if many universities came to similar conclusions, drawing the assumption that the pure version of maths is slightly ‘harder’, even if this were not the intention of the IB in its design. For more information on the Maths syllabus changes, please take a look at our article dedicated to this!
We are running free IB Maths teacher training workshops on the new maths syllabus, please get in touch if you’d like to find out more.
How important are subject combinations?
When it comes to the IB, selecting your 6 subjects is tough enough – your school may enforce their own requirements to allow you to take certain subjects, whilst classroom timetabling and teaching quality all come into play. Schools ongoing love-hate relationship with Pamoja (an online software that allows you to study IB subjects not offered at your school) also means that certain students may have a very high aptitude in a subject which they simply aren’t able to take. On top of this, it is often down to students to investigate whether certain universities have specific subject requirements alongside a total IB score. For example, did you know that to study Economics at LSE, you require a 7 at Higher Level Maths? Our IB entry requirements matrix enables you to be informed before you make your choices.
When selecting your subjects, you must strike a balance between enjoying what you are learning whilst ensuring you aren’t missing out on key course entry requirements. Think you’d like to study medicine? Make sure you’re taking HL Chemistry and Biology, and on track for at least a 6 in both.
Interestingly, many universities have started offering HL only requirements, as well as overall point tallies. For example, Law at Exeter ask for either 36 overall, or simply 6,6,6 at HL (perhaps to draw a more obvious comparison with A-levels).
For more information, we have an informative piece on picking your IB subject choices that we would wholeheartedly encourage you to read.
The importance of 1st year IB exams
At many of the talks I give through the academic year, the questions I am asked span a wide breadth of subjects, but one of the most striking commonalities about each presentation is how surprised students are about how vital their first year results are, given they are not sent off to the IB as part of your diploma. Looking at the deadlines below, you can see how, particularly for students keen on Oxbridge or medical degrees, there is little time back at school in the 1st term of 2nd year to improve mock grades. UCAS applications are sent off on October 15th, or even sooner if applying to one of these two routes – this means 1st year mock exams are fundamental to the grades teachers will supply on your UCAS form.