HKDSE for UK Universities

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HKDSE offers

The British Council in Hong Kong has announced the specific requirements from six UK universities who have recognized the new HKDSE for admissions purposes. This follows on from the UCAS announcement on the tariff value of the HKDSE. The UCAS tariff awards points for a variety of public examinations allowing applicants to gain entry through alternative pathways to the traditional A-level combination. As such the A-level was used as a benchmark when assessing the HKDSE. UCAS considers a Level 3 diploma grade to be the same as an E grade A-level – the lowest passing grade – while a Level 5 diploma grade is equivalent to an A grade at A-level.

The six – Oxford, Manchester, Warwick, King’s College London, Kent and Sheffield Hallam – have now released further details of their expectations of candidates offering HKDSE scores to meet the entrance criteria. As they are based on the UCAS assessment there are no real surprises but some grey areas remain.
Oxford will require three Level 5 subjects which must be electives. This discounts Chinese, English and Liberal Studies. The worry here is the English as without it students are unable to matriculate (i.e. join the student body). The other two are understandably discounted as Chinese is of no real use in most Oxford degrees and Liberal Studies is not an academic discipline (just as Oxford doesn’t count subjects such as Media Studies from UK examination boards). As it stands, HKDSE students will still have to offer another benchmark English exam such as IELTS in order to matriculate at Oxford. It is hoped that the university will reconsider and allow the HKDSE English to qualify at some point in the future. Fingers crossed a decision is made before the first cohort completes in 2012. That said, students, teachers and parents alike should consider the realities of an Oxford application. While Oxford routinely publishes its requirements as three As at A-level, applicants rarely get an interview, let alone an offer, without a predicted four As at A-level. High calibre applicants – i.e. normal Oxford applicants – should have no trouble gaining additional English proficiency qualifications and this may even be desirable.

The other three Russell Group universities on the list – Warwick, Manchester and King’s – will require similarly high standards in elective subjects. Overall, the new HKDSE could be advantageous to the very best Hong Kong students for two reasons. Firstly, grades are more commensurate with UK A-levels than the old HKALE was, bringing Hong Kong students on to a more level playing field. Secondly, with the top diploma grade at Level 5**, Hong Kong students actually get a chance to clearly outshine their UK peers.

The big disadvantage though remains, and will do so for years to come, that admissions tutors at UK universities (especially the likes of Oxford) don’t really know the diploma and what it represents. They don’t know what it means in terms of student ability and potential, academically and intellectually. At least Oxford has the interview system to mitigate this, but the others may struggle. The next few years will certainly throw up a number of battles for HKDSE students trying to gain admission to UK universities.

By Danny Harrington

Co-founder of ITS Tutorial School, Danny read Geography at Christ Church, Oxford and regularly assists suitable candidates with their Oxford applications.

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