EXCLUSIVE: Trinity’s attempt to scuttle 2017 implementation of new admissions test

Some stakeholders in admissions process argue new test is inefficient, costly and damaging.


In February, the University signalled its intention to introduce a controversial university-wide admissions test for the cohorts matriculating in 2017 and 2018.

Up until now, the University has presented a mostly united front on the issue. Information obtained by The Tab, however, reveals the extent of in-fighting over the new test.

At a meeting of the Admissions Forum in February, several grave concerns were raised over the new test and four colleges even tried to delay its implementation.

Serious concerns were raised about the likelihood of the tests being processed in time, both because of “practicalities” and resource issues. At a separate meeting in January, it was noted that “the workload for College Admissions Offices is increasing each year”. Attendees expressed “considerable concern” that colleges would be exposed to “reputational damage” if they were found to have rejected students for interviews before knowing the results of the test.

So much drama over a little test

So much drama over a little test

On top of that, attendees worried about the cost of the new test and “a number of issues and concerns were raised” about its “cost implications”.  Attendees suggested the money would be wasted if the candidate were going to be rejected on the basis of their other data anyway.

There was a “full discussion” of all concerns over the test, involving a “wide range of views”. An earlier meeting, in January, reveals that colleges also fear the effect of the test on admissions to certain subjects and types of students – such as HSPS at mature colleges. This could be “very damaging to certain Colleges”. In the same meeting, CUSU Access Officer Helena Blair expressed significant concern that any test over two hours long could act “as a barrier for access”.

After a vigorous discussion of the test, Trinity made a bold attempt to delay implementation of the test, moving that if the results weren’t available in time for a certain date, their use in admissions be deferred to 2018. Trinity found three allies, but 16 colleges voted against it.

Confidential minutes from the Admissions Forum.

Confidential minutes from the Admissions Forum.

A spokesman for the University said there’d been a “healthy and constructive debate … about the logistics involved in introducing admissions assessments”. He said that a “revised timetable for marking has addressed the key concerns raised”.

“We are committed to recruiting and admitting the brightest students irrespective of social or educational background. We have the expertise needed to devise assessments which are appropriate for academically gifted students from all backgrounds. No advance preparation will be needed, other than revision of material already being studied at school, and only where indicated for specific courses. In addition to providing advice through our UK-wide schools liaison work, we will ensure that all of the information that applicants need is freely available online.”

CUSU Access Officer Helena Blair told The Tab “there has been a lot of debate on committees – the introduction of admissions assessments is a large and complex undertaking for the Collegiate University, and each aspect of their execution holds potential challenges both administrative and access-related”.

Access Officer Helena Blair.

Access Officer Helena Blair.

She argued it was important for colleges to take a consistent approach to admissions assessments: “In previous years, Cambridge Colleges have varyingly requested that applicants sit at-interview tests, resulting in an application system that can feel confusing.

“The streamlining of Colleges’ admissions processes is the silver lining of introducing admissions assessments, as applicants can be supported through clear communication and resources for preparation … We would not want to see a system where Colleges differ in their approach once more.”

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