The Selection Alliance is responsible for the development and implementation of the Medical Schools Council’s selection work. Formed in 2015, its chief role is to carry out the recommendations of the Selecting for Excellence Final Report which relate to medical schools. Drawing on the expertise of medical school admissions leads from across the UK, the Selection Alliance focuses on the following areas:
Medical schools use various ways of selecting their students, including admissions tests, assessment centres, panel interviews and ‘multiple-mini interviews’. The value of a selection method is in its ability to predict the suitability of a candidate for medicine. The Selection Alliance offers a means for medical schools to come together to compare methods and offer best practice.
It also establishes working groups and commissions research to learn more about particular methods. For example, an expert group is now working to optimise the way in which multiple-mini interviews are used. Elsewhere, research is underway into the impact that different weightings (the relative ‘importance’ placed on various aspects of an application) has on candidates from a widening participation background.
Central to the formation of the Selection Alliance is its role in widening participation to the medical degree. Historically, various groups have been under-represented in medicine as a university subject and in turn as a profession.
There are different measures for representation, such as gender and ethnicity. Women now make up slightly more than half of both applicants and graduates from the medical degree, but a measure like ethnicity is more complex. Some groups are represented among medical students in proportion to their size in the UK population, while other groups are over or underrepresented.
The principal measure considered in the Selection Alliance’s widening participation work is socio-economic background. This is because significant disparities have been found in engagement with the medical degree between different socio-economic groups. Many other measures can be related to socio-economic grouping, so it is reasonable that work revolves around this.
Definitions of widening participation and widening access
These two definitions have been updated following feedback from the last Selection Alliance Board meeting on 1 February 2017.
The Selection Alliance definition of widening access:
‘The purpose of widening access initiatives is to raise aspirations and inspire students from backgrounds underrepresented in medicine to make an informed choice to study at medical school. The aim is to recruit these students so that future generations of medical students, and therefore doctors, more closely mirror the population that they serve.’
The Selection Alliance definition of widening participation:
‘Widening participation aims to ensure there is equality of access to the medical profession. This means that medical schools must have processes in place to support the recruitment, progression and retention of medical students from under represented backgrounds. This includes students with protected characteristics as defined by the Equality Act (and equivalent legislation across the UK) as well as those from a lower socio-economic background.’
Providing better information for participants
Entry requirements for medical schools are high, but they can vary subtly and information regarding widening participation is not always easy to find. This information is spread across more than thirty websites. Applicants with good careers guidance will therefore have an advantage in understanding the information over those who do not. To address this, the Medical Schools Council now collects the information directly from medical schools and collates into a booklet for applicants: Entry requirements for UK medical schools. It is updated yearly. This has also been a way of offering formalised categories for the types of medical degrees.
This is the use of information from an applicant’s background to better understand their attainment and adjust admissions criteria to reflect the context of their achievements. The principle of contextual admissions is that some applicants face barriers due to their circumstances which prevent them from meeting the entry requirements to medicine, even though they have the ability and aptitude to become excellent doctors. Like all medical admissions, it is concerned only with high-quality candidates; contextual admissions can be a tool which enables medical schools to look deeper for those candidates.
The information used in contextual admissions comes in many different forms, or ‘markers’. These markers can include an applicant’s school, where they live, whether they or their family have received extra support such as free school meals, or a combination of these things. The ways in which this might factor into entry requirements again varies, but often involves an adjustment of the entry criteria. Medical schools are free to use contextual admissions how they wish, or not at all, according to what best suits their circumstances.
Contextual admissions are viewed as one of the keys to fairer access to education. Part of the Selection Alliance’s core mission is to conduct research into contextual admissions in medicine, and it will publish findings on an ongoing basis. Written for medical school staff, Indicators of good practice in contextual admissions was published in February 2017.
An important method of raising awareness and aspirations among young people is to inform them about the profession while they are still in school. This is referred to as outreach, and the Selection Alliance engages with it in a number of ways.
At the level of primary school, the Medical Schools Council launched the 'Who's in Health' campaign to encourage volunteers into this crucial stage of children’s development, which has historically been underserved in terms of medical outreach.
At the secondary school level, outreach is already performed by medical schools, particularly through student societies. However, research commissioned by the Selection Alliance identified ‘cold spots’ in the coverage of this outreach, with some parts of the UK receiving relatively little. To address this, the Selection Alliance assists in organising regional teacher conferences and meetings with medical schools in areas considered cold spots, and publishes guidance for teachers on medical applications. These initiatives help to build links and provide resources for teachers to use in inspiring their students.
The Selection Alliance consists of a Reference Group which meets twice yearly and is attended by two deans of admissions from each Medical Schools Council member. Elected from the Reference Group is a Board which sets the strategic aims for the Selection Alliance. Board members are as follows:
- Dr Paul Garrud (Chair), University of Nottingham
- Mr Murat Akyol, University of Edinburgh
- Darren Beaney, Brighton and Sussex Medical School
- Dr Sally Curtis, University of Southampton
- Dr Gordon Dent, Keele University
- Professor Jonathan Dowell, University of Dundee
- Dr Paul Lambe, Plymouth University
- Dr Gail Nicholls, University of Leeds
- Dr Paul Paes, Newcastle University
- Dr Heidi Phillips, Swansea University
Providing ongoing monitoring of the Selection Alliance is the Oversight Group, which was established during the Selecting for Excellence project and remains to ensure that the recommendations of the Final Report are being carried out.