The newly established Advanced Diploma in Engineering will be accepted alongside A-levels and IB points for entry to the Cambridge engineering Tripos.
Announced last week, the decision will come into effect in 2009 for courses starting in October 2010.
Applicants will also be expected to have completed physics A-Level and the A-level equivalent certificate in mathematics for engineering (level 3) if they hope to be successful.
According to the Government website, the 14-19 Diploma program is based on “a mix of class work, functional skills, practical projects, life skills and work experience.”
It was launched in the hope that a departure from the traditionally academic curriculum in favour of a new emphasis on vocational and applied learning would encourage pupils to remain in education beyond the age of 16.
However, despite these changes and the promise of an extra £1000 funding per pupil undertaking the Diploma, pupils and schools have responded with far less enthusiasm than the Government initially envisaged. Only 12,000 pupils embarked on the program at the start of this academic year – a stark contrast to the original prediction of 50,000.
One of the major reasons behind the anaemic uptake is the concern of parents, pupils and schools that University admissions offices will view the Diploma as a second-tier qualification in comparison to the “gold standard” A-level.
The decision of Cambridge University, echoed by Oxford, is widely viewed as a calculated show of support for one of the most controversial education initiatives of recent years.
The engineering Advanced Diploma is not the only such qualification that has been considered by the University as acceptable grounds for entry.
The ‘Construction and the Built Environment’ Advanced Diploma contains several elements that line up with the requirements of the Architecture Tripos.
Speaking to The Cambridge Student (TCS), Dr Geoff Parks, the Cambridge Director of Admissions, explained why the Architecture department decided against expanding admissions to included diploma candidates:
“With no essential pre-requisite range of skills, Architecture is already one of the most popular courses offered by the University.
“Of the 400-plus applications we receive every year, only 40 can be successful. To open up the process even further would just cause more pain for rejected applicants.”
As for the verdict on engineering applications, Dr Parks dismissed the idea that it might discriminate against students whose schools do not offer the Diploma program. “There are any number of alternative routes in,” he said.
“There are seven A-Levels we say are useful for the engineering course, but we certainly don’t expect people to do all of them. Diploma students will have advantages over A-level pupils in some respects, and disadvantages in others – no-one can be a perfect candidate.”