The news this week from the UK foundation programme office (UKFPO) cast a devastating blow to the confidence of many applicants, when they announced that not only was this year’s programme oversubscribed, but that applicants’ choices of foundation school had forced them to implement their contingency plan for scoring the applications.
Applications for foundation posts are usually scored by an applicant’s first choice foundation school. The score enables the candidates to be ranked, so schools can be allocated according to candidate preference, starting with the top scoring candidate.
In previous years if a candidate’s first choice school was full, they were placed on a reserve list and only allocated a school from the spaces remaining after all candidates had been given their first choice if available. This meant many higher scoring candidates were eventually allocated a school far lower in their list of choices than lesser scoring candidates. The system began to breed tactical ranking amongst applicants, contributing to the most oversubscribed foundation school, Northwest Thames, being undersubscribed for the first time in the 2011 cycle.
This year, the allocation algorithm is different. Now candidates whose first choice school is full will be allocated a space at their next choice school with places remaining. Applicants, content in the knowledge that if they do not get their first choice they are more likely to get their second or third, seem to have abandoned tactical voting. With more than before taking a London or bust approach to their choices, one London foundation school has had so many more applications compared to previous cycles that it cannot score all of them by the November 18th deadline.
UKFPO have announced the following measures to deal with the situation. “In order to ensure that applications are considered fairly and resources at all schools are optimised, the contingency plan for scoring applications will be invoked. The oversubscribed London schools will score 10% more applications than last year, and the remaining applications will be assigned to another school(s) for scoring. The applications to be scored by an alternative school will be chosen at random.”
Although a plan is in place, candidates like myself are still apprehensive. Oversubscription of a foundation school drives up the score needed to secure a place. Previous years have seen some foundation schools receive double the number of applications than they can offer places, but never before has a scoring contingency plan needed to be put into action. Begging the question, just how many more people have applied this year in order for the contingency plan to be needed?
While the UKFPO stress the change will not affect the outcome of candidates’ applications, one message is very clear to students. We have no such contingency plan to fall back on. Whatever the outcome of our applications, we shall have to adjust our lives accordingly.
Maham Khan is a Clegg scholar and final year medical student, Imperial College London.