Equal opportunities: Selection
We can hardly claim equal opportunities for students if they can't get on our courses in the first place.
Most of the recruitment procedures of colleges are carried out at an institutional level, and are beyond the scope of this site, but there are some considerations worth addressing:
Are the chosen media likely to reach all sectors of the population, including those under-represented on the course at present?
There is an argument which says that we ought to take everyone who wants to do a course, qualified or not. If they then fail, that is their responsibility and ultimately their choice. This is really a parody of the free-market position: places on courses are limited, and in very few cases is the full cost borne by the student. A student who is not likely to make it is occupying a place which could have gone to someone else. The fairness of equal opportunities and access policies has to work within this context.
However, we do have an obligation to research what factors are relevant for selection. Statistically, which are most likely to correlate with successful completion? We do not have to be bound slavishly by them, but we need to know what they are, so that if we decide to use them or to set them aside, we are making an informed decision.
Say that your research indicates that single mothers with young children are less likely to complete the course than other people. Does that mean that you are entitled to take their family status into account in selection?
Selection processes are forms of assessment. They simply happen at the start of a course rather than the end. As such, all the issues surrounding assessment should be taken into consideration when selecting. Are the methods valid, reliable, and fair?
Generic institutional application forms often seem to suit no-one. From the equal opportunities point of view, ensure that they:
- Do ask about all the relevant experience which applicants might have which could support their application, rather than simply the "mainstream" educational qualifications.
- Don't ask anything which is irrelevant to the programme for which the applicant is applying. Age, for example, is irrelevant beyond perhaps "under 18" and "18 or over".
Traditionally, we have selected the "best-qualified" candidates, in a norm-referenced way. But, assuming that we know what are the threshold requirements for successful completion of the course, might it not be fairer to operate a simple "first-come, first-served" policy for those who are likely to succeed?
Do you know why you interview? Interviews are potentially highly discriminatory, and the evidence is that in many fields they have no better record of selecting ultimately successful students than do paper-processing exercises. On the other hand, some students may be able to make a better case for their admission at interview than they can on paper, and of course offering an interview can itself be an encouragement to someone unsure about studying.
If you do interview:
- Ensure that the interview arrangements themselves are not discriminatory: the time, for example, should be convenient.
- Ensure that where possible the interview is conducted by two people. One person can make idiosyncratic judgements, three are a bit overwhelming. The two interviewers will ideally represent more than one sex, ethnic group, etc. For some courses, have you considered using present students as interviewers?
- Ensure that all questions are relevant.
- Ensure that all candidates are asked the same questions. Follow-ups may vary, of course, according to the candidate's answer. But it is not legitimate to ask a woman about her child-care arrangements and not to ask it of a man.
- Ensure that the selection criteria are consistent, clear and transparent. Each interviewer might rate the candidate individually against supplied criteria, and then negotiate with the other interviewer to produce an agreed "score". This may then be applied, with a predetermined weighting, to a score derived from a set of criteria applied to the application form at the short-listing stage.
- It is often logistically difficult for interviewers to consult, make a decision, and call the candidate back to give a result and related advice face-to-face, but there is a lot to be said for it. Just do not blur the boundary between the selection process and the advice session.
- Even if you can't give reasons in person or in writing, offering a 'phone follow-up is helpful. It puts the ball in the candidate's court, so she will only phone if she wants the guidance.
Yes, I know. In many colleges chance would be a fine thing! Candidates are often interviewed by people who know little about the courses, other than their level and entry qualifications, and selection is as much a selling exercise as anything else...