Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

An interesting experiment in education

by Laurent GUERBY Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 06:43:57 AM EST

AFP just put out an interesting story: Médecine à Grenoble: l'enseignement par DVD, facteur d'égalité des chances. Translation: "Medecine teaching at Grenoble: teaching using DVD, a factor in equality of chances".

The bits I found really interesting:

"Dans toutes les facs de médecine françaises, un boursier, qui est souvent un fils d'ouvrier, a six fois moins de chances de passer en deuxième année qu'un fils de cadre qui se paye une prépa privée à 2.000 euros. A Grenoble, à mentions égales au bac, les boursiers réussissent aussi bien que les fils de cadres grâce au système que nous avons mis en place", affirme le docteur Jean-Charles Coutures, consultant pour cette expérience.


"In all french medecine universities a student receiving state help, often from a blue collar family, has 6 times less chance to make it to second year than a white collar child with private teaching help costing 2000 euros. At Grenoble, controlling for equal result at baccalauréat, blue scholar children do as well as white collar children thanks to the (DVD) system we put in place" says Doctor Jean-Charles Coutures a consultant for this experiment.

The article also mention third year student tutoring first year students.

A bit of background: first year of study in medecine in the french system is the big selection year. Wikipedia has a full article on the french teaching cycle (in french), about 10% of students make it from first to second year.

So it seems that with some teaching techniques it is possible to bridge the family cultural background gap.

Do you have are other experiments and data on this topic?

This is really interesting.  I've not come across any directly similar examples.  It does make me think of the Open University though, or any good quality distance learning courses.

The learning resources that the OU provide include DVDs, tapes/CDs as well as textbooks, that provide information on the subject matter but also have a large focus on study skills, which is why the appeal is large across students of all ages and backgrounds.

It is becoming more common in the UK to offer places to students with lower grades, from disadvantaged backgrounds with extra tuition once they start the course to bring them up to speed once they start.  I'm not sure how successful it is. Some universities are excellent at pastoral care and academic support and many are useless.

On similar grounds, I was offered a place at Cambridge (10 years ago!) to do the subject of my choice so long as I passed 2 A-levels. I turned it down because I didn't fancy being anybody's prize tick box (and in hindsight, it wasn't the right university for me anyway).

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 11:44:58 AM EST
Does Cambridge admit people on money only? (rich daddy kids)
by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 02:20:23 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think so, not home students (ie UK) - there are standard level of tuition fees to pay though based on income up to a max of 3000 pounds.  

They have been very keen to promote the fact that they have a large proportion of regular state schools entrants vs private schools, contrary to perception.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 03:00:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Neither Oxford nor Cambridge do this. Which is not to say that there is no social bias in recruiting... Daddy's money goes into the right boarding schools that prepare for Oxbridge. More than half the undergraduates come from private education. With the sense of entitlement that goes with it.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 03:24:00 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Now I've checked, I see things have very slightly changed from the last time I looked. Cambridge now has 57% state school entrants, and Oxford 53%. See this BBC article.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 03:37:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In Wales and afew thanks.

Is there an anonymous entrance exam on which students are sorted? What are the criteria to get in?

by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 04:15:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's a separate procedure, but I'm not sure what it is made up of now. It used to be a written exam plus a couple of interviews. Not anonymous, and the school you were from mattered (still does, no doubt).
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 05:13:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Criteria now are more based on A-level performance, but I think they still count on the interview procedure to sort candidates.

There's an incestuous relationship between certain schools (especially private and prestigious ones) and certain colleges (Oxford and Cambridge being collegiate universities, you have to obtain membership of a college to be admitted to read for a degree - so you apply to a college and are vetted by that college). To the extent that such a school may almost nominate a student to such a college. There may be less of this today, but I doubt if it has disappeared completely.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Sat Sep 8th, 2007 at 05:21:38 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Here's the admissions page for Cambridge

In the UK, we have a system whereby when you are doing your A-levels to apply to Univerisities through the UCAS system.  One form and up to 6 choices of university/courses.  You apply based on your predicted grades which are determined from coursework and mock exams of AS level results (where you do half an a level at a time).  Other routes exist for mature/international/ non-traditional students.

With Cambridge, you are then interviewed (usually on the basis of good expected A level grades and a good written application). You are then invited to interview and offered a conditional place ie you must get 2 A's and a B to get on your course of choice (or the equivalent number of points). Definitely not anonymous.

The reason for lack of anonymity in the UK in general is because universities are actively encouraging students from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply.  If you purely look at grades and how well written the form is then a lot of students wouldn't stand a chance.

Afew mentions relationships with colleges and private schools etc, which I imagine is still the case, but they have also been developing those relationships with schools that have a largely deprived demographic in their catchment area, such that mine was. This is how I came to visit the admissions tutor at Cambridge in the first place.  Only 5 of us went (and it was a really BIG deal for our head of year), and nobody from my school had ever got into Oxbridge.  I was the only one who wasn't rude to him, and consequently the only one he actively encouraged an application from!

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Sep 9th, 2007 at 03:13:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I also remember the admissions tutor telling us we would not be required to do a written exam if we were applying through UCAS.

I have just noticed this on their admissions page:

Cambridge Special Access Scheme
    *   Very few people from your school/college proceed to higher education AND your family has little or no tradition of studying for a degree.
    * Your education has been significantly disrupted or disadvantaged through health or personal problems, disability or difficulties with schooling.
by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Sep 9th, 2007 at 03:16:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm a bit lost on the UK system :)

To clarify, here is my own cursus in the french system,  each school year starts in september and ends in june, the start is indicated here:

year age activity
1973 0 born in october
1974 1
1975 2 maternelle tres petite section (started effective in 1976)
1976 3 mat. petite section
1977 4 mat. moyenne section
1978 5 mat. grande  section
1979 6 CP
1980 7 CE1
1981 8 CE2
1982 9 CM1
1983 10 CM2 small exam to evaluate your level
1984 11 6e entry in what we call "college"
1985 12 5e
1986 13 4e
1987 14 3e ends with small exam "brevet des colleges"
1988 15 2d entry in what we call "lycée"
1989 16 1e Science special
1990 17 terminale Science special
1991 18 june baccalaureat exam / september math sup entry
1992 19 math spe
1993 20 june multiple written exam then oral / september ingenieur year 1
1994 21 inge. 2
1995 22 inge. 3
1996 23 diploma / december start military service
1997 24 december end of military service

So when you're about 18 in France if you've followed the classical cursus you take a big exam the "bacccalauréat" with writen tests in many areas and oral for foreign language (minor).

Your name is not on the test, teacher who gives you a mark for your exam don't know who you are, grades are from 0 (empty sheet) to 20 (perfect). If your weighted average is above 10 (50% of the max) you get your exam and can continue to university. During school grades do not count for the exam (this might have changed, but I believe they count very little).

In my case, I submited at the end of "lycée" in terminale (before the exam) a file to enter to what we call "classe préparatoire", noted "math sup" and "math spé". In this file, your teacher give your current grades and a personnal appreciation of your level. You can submit this file to at most three "classe preparatoire" anywhere in France. The classe preparatoire historical results to the next big exam are known so they're in effect ranked at the national level and their selectivity is known (your teacher will tell you your odds), and I got accepted into one of the top ranked "Lycée Pierre de Fermat" located in Toulouse. You go in effectively if you get your baccalauréat exam but statistically this is not a problem if your file was accepted.

Classe preparatoire is very intensive math/physics/chemistry for two years, you get grades every week on writen and oral exams. According to your grades you then are oriented/sorted in second year to more math or more physics each one with a more advanced version or a normal version (I got into math normal). Some (around 2-5%) fail first year (not good enough grades) and go back to second year of university after taking an exam.

Whatever your second year, you then can try as many "concours" as you want, they all are big anonymous serie of writen exam (there are three main exams "Les Mines", "Centrale" and "ENSI", plus special "Polytechnique" and one for each "Ecole Normale"). Grades are sorted for each exam and the Nth top can go to the second round which is oral exam, all done in Paris (slight advantage for Paris classe preparatoire as they tend to know a bit more about it). Then each school says ok to the Nth top of the overall exam and you choose the school you want to go in according to your rank. School ranks are pretty well known. If you don't get any school you can do one more year and try again. If you don't get anything you can pass an exam and go back to university based cursus.

Overall you can't get in those engineering school without a good level, and you can't pay to get in. Of course you get many white collar children.

What's the process in the UK and in the US (and any other country you know of :) ?

by Laurent GUERBY on Sun Sep 9th, 2007 at 06:18:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How incredibly different.  No wonder the Bologna Process is a great big headache.

Well, I'll use my example as a route through state education in the UK, and compare it with the more recent situation.  the National Curriculum wasn't introduced until I was starting High school. I remember doing the Key Stage 3 stuff but I don't think we actually had tests, our progress was charted through lesson outcomes and homework.

School years start usually in early September, through to mid August.

1978 born in November
1979 0-1
1980 1-2
1981 2-3
1982 3-4:
1983 4-5: Started in reception class, in December (after 5th bday). This is now Foundation level in the NC
1985 6-7:  Year 1 (Now the start of Key Stage 1 in the NC)
1984 5-6:  Year 2 (Key Stage 1 Tests - english and maths)
1986 7-8:   Year 3 - Juniors/middle school (Key Stage 2 starts)
1987 8-9:  Year 4
1988 9-10: Year 5
1989 10-11: Year 6(Key Stage 2 Tests English, maths and science)
1990 11-12: Year 7  First year of high school (Key Stage 3)
1991 12-13: Year 8
1992 13-14: Year 9 (KS 3 tests - English, maths and science)
1993 14-15: Year 10  (KS 4 - first year of GCSE's, with mock exams - I took 9 subjects)
1994 15-16: (second year of GCSE's, exams are taken which will determine grades for future study)

At 16 you can leave full time education.
GCSE's are used to qualify for A-levels (at 6th form or college) or for other types of college courses/qualifications including National Vocational Qualifications, or access courses etc.  

Scotland has a very different system to England and Wales - Scottish Highers, which are broader than gaining individual qualifications, but I know little about it. Some schools also do the baccaleureat.

1995 16-17: 6th form - 3 A-levels (mock exams)
1996 17-18: 6th form - 2 A-levels (University applications and exams)

And I have remembered that I did year 1 twice due to moving schools.  Apparently deaf children are stupid and need to be kept back. I actually finished my GCSE's in 1997 and started University then (at the time, no tuition fees and I qualified for a grant for living costs).

A-levels (and to a lesser extent NVQ's) are used to show the grades/ability/qualifications for university entrance. Going straight from school you apply through the UCAS system, which is not anonymous.

We don't have Polytechnics in the UK any more but there is a clear distinction between the older redbrick universities and the newer ones in terms of status and the types of courses they do.  There is a ranking system but it is based on research and is completely unlinked to the quality of teaching. The National Student Satisfaction Survey gives a better indication of that.  

I was given a place to read Chemistry (BSc (hons)) at Cardiff University - a 3 year course. During my second year, with good grades, I changed over to the M.Chem which is a 4 year course.  Instead of a 3rd year BSc research project I did a dissertation and the 4th year was a research project and advanced tutorials. Relentless.

Tests and lab coursework wasn't anonymous but written exams were. This varies from course to course - most other departments anonymise everything that is handed in for marking. Markers for dyslexic students' scripts are used to ensure they are not unfairly marked down for spelling etc.

I'm not sure what the drop out rate was but the average coursework and exam pass rate to stay on the course is 40% so if you get less than that overall, you keep repeating the year for as long as you can bear, transfer to another course or university or leave.

Which was fine when there were no fees to pay but we now have variable fees up to a maximum of 3,070 pounds per year.  Some Universities charge the full amount and others don't and different systems are in place for enabling access to students from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as grants or fee waivers.  Welsh students attending a Welsh University won't need to pay mroe than the flat rate fee of 1200 pounds per year because top up fees were voted against by the Welsh Assembly. All rather complex...

I should note that the fees do not have to be paid until you graduate and are earning a minimum amount.  This also applies to 'government' dispensed student loans (both fees and loans are run by the Student Loans Company).

Qualifications for my course were set by the pass mark achieved. ie 70% and plus is a 1st.  So the number of 1st Class degrees awarded is entirely based on the marks gained and not given only to X% of the highest marks.

In 2001 I graduated from Cardiff with my M.Chem and then moved straight onto my PhD, which given a small miracle should be complete by December.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Sep 9th, 2007 at 08:10:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
if you have the time try this site

It's the European NUS, I used to be involved about 4 years ago.  A great deal of research, submissions, papers and so on regarding Higher Education across Europe. You'll find some good comparisons there especially in the context of the Bologna process and their involvement with it.

by In Wales (inwales aaat eurotrib.com) on Sun Sep 9th, 2007 at 08:36:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]