Questions on Open Days

Today was the last of this year’s five Open Days for prospective students (typically those wanting to start in 2014). I ran it with 9 students and 9 other members of staff, and now I am very tired. We have a big undergrad lab – useful today as in the morning we had about 150 prospective students and their parents kind of filled it. We told a lot of people a lot about our courses.

Jim Al-Khalili (our admissions tutor) and Paul Sellin (head of department) give the talk on physics courses and careers, and our courses, on these days. At the end of the pm talk, a parent asked why our A-level offer is “so low”. It is ABB for our BSc Physics degrees. He compared it to Manchester’s A*A*A. My initial reaction was to be startled that Manchester’s offer includes two A*’s. But he was right, I looked it up and give their offer as A*A*A to A*AA. That looks a high offer to me, but of course it is up to Manchester to set their offer.

I don’t set our offers – I just do the Open Days – but ABB sounds OK to me. I have spent years teaching students with typically A’s and B’s, and this seems to work OK. A large majority learn lots of physics and go on to get jobs, do PhDs, etc. They are also really nice people. I would hope that we, or at least another good physics Department can continue to educate these young people, as I think they benefit from it.

Having said that we have about 115 students in our first year, about 50 more than in the year before, and we probably can’t take many more than 130 in a year. Our undergrad labs are big but but not infinitely big. And we do select on the basis of A-level grades, so it may be that we would have to push up the offer (for 2015 entry not 2014 – that offer is already set) to say AAB for BSc and AAA for the MPhys.

So using the offer to keep numbers in the range that the Department can teach is kind of something you have to do. But I think sometimes you can feel the pressure to put grades, because some think that courses with higher offers are better courses. I don’t think that’s true, and this is basically the answer Jim said in answer to the question. But maybe I am biased – I turned down a BCC offer from Bristol and went for Sheffield’s CCC. I didn’t regret it.