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Socioeconomic background has no effect

From Dr J. Bush, MRPharmS

In his response to my letter Andrew Adams offers a robust defence of the University of Huddersfield’s admissions process (PJ, 21 March 2012, p380). I find nothing to criticise in this and, indeed, I did not criticise this process in my initial letter (PJ, 18 March 2012, p340).

I agree entirely with Mr Adams that the academic and socioeconomic background of students applying to study pharmacy should be an important consideration for admissions tutors. In 2010, 69 per cent of examination papers from independent schools were awarded an A or A* grade compared with 53 per cent in selective state schools and 27 per cent in non-selective state schools.1

Despite their relative “over-achievement” before entry to higher education, we know that, all other things (eg, age, gender, “A”-level grades, etc) being equal, students from independent schools consistently do less well in their degree programmes than students from other schools and colleges.2

Socioeconomic background has a pronounced impact on educational achievement before entry to higher education. (This is, of course, inextricably linked with the type of school attended.) Indeed, the participation rate in higher education among people aged 18–20 years from lower socioeconomic groups is approximately half that of higher socioeconomic groups.3 However, where I disagree with Mr Adams is in his assertion that the socioeconomic background of students may “greatly affect” degree performance. Indeed, he offers no evidence to support this. The limited evidence available on the impact of socioeconomic background on degree performance on pharmacy programmes in the UK appears to suggest that socioeconomic deprivation has no effect on final degree performance.4,5

Mr Adams’s claim that we can all name a colleague who entered pharmacy with lower than standard “A”-level grades but who eventually achieved a first class degree is undoubtedly true. However, such anecdotal evidence is — by its very nature — of little value.

Finally, at no point have I passed comment on what may or may not be the key attributes that make a successful pharmacist. This is an area that I believe would be better explored in a PhD thesis (for example, how does one define successful?) rather than in the bearpit that is the exchange of concise letters within the pages of The Pharmaceutical Journal.

Joseph Bush

Lecturer in Pharmacy Practice

Aston University


1 Joint Council for Qualifications. Results 2010: GCE A-level. 2010.

2 Higher Education Funding Council for England. Schooling effects on higher education achievement. 2003.

3 Coleman R, Bekhradnia B. Higher education supply and demand to 2020. Higher Education Policy Institute. 2011.

4 Sharif S, Bansal N, Gifford L et al. What makes a student succeed? Pharmacy Education 2002;2:147–9.

5 Sharif S, Gifford L, Morris GA et al. Can we predict student success (and reduce student failure)? Pharmacy Education 2003;3:77–86.

Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal URI: 11099542

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