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Awarding university places on predicted grades 'deeply unfair', Labour says

Chris Radburn/PA Wire

Giving students university places based on predicted grades is "deeply unfair", with some of the most "disadvantaged" students missing out on higher education, Labour says.

Ahead of A-level results day on Thursday, Labour is calling for "radical action" on higher education admissions, saying they will scrap university offers based on predicted grades and implement a new "fairer" system of post-qualification admissions (PQA).

Under Labour's plans, students will apply for their university or higher education place only after receiving their A-level results or other qualifications, instead of relying on predicted grades which, the party says, unfairly penalises disadvantaged students and those from minority backgrounds.

Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said offering places in university or higher education based on predictions is "deeply unfair", with them proving to be "wrong in the vast majority of cases".

The Department for Education, however, said a review of university admissions is already under way to investigate whether current practices serve students well.

Ms Rayner said: "The higher education admissions system isn't working for students, and radical action is needed to change that.

"Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions.

"No one should be left out of our education system just because of their background, yet with grants scrapped and fees tripled, the system is now deeply unfair.

"A Labour government will deliver the reform that is needed, implementing a new system of post-qualification admissions by the end of our first term in office.

"We will put students at the heart of the system, making it fairer, more accurate, and a genuine vehicle for social justice.

"We will work with schools, colleges, and universities to design and implement the new system, and continue to develop our plans to make higher education genuinely accessible to all."

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "Allowing people to apply after they receive their results would help level the playing field for students, remove the problems associated with unconditional offers and end the chaotic clearing scramble.

"The current system, based on inaccurately predicted results, is failing students and it is time we adopted the type of system used around the rest of the world where university offers are based on actual achievements instead of guesswork."

David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: "The Labour Party has recognised weaknesses in the current admissions system which must be addressed and which have concerned colleges, including the increased use of unconditional offers.

"With only 16% of applicants achieving their predicted A-level grades, it is clear that pre-results applications are problematic."

Dr Graeme Atherton, director of the National Education Opportunities Network, said: "The admissions system was designed at a time when a small minority of students, mostly from privileged backgrounds, entered higher education.

"As far more students progress and we wish to widen access further it is essential that we move to a 21st century system based on post-qualifications admissions that puts students first."

Clare Marchant, chief executive of UCAS, however, said if the new measures are introduced, they could "significantly disadvantage under-represented and disabled students", unless university or school calendars change.

Ms Marchant said: "Young people need their teachers' support when making application choices, and this isn't readily available to all at the scale required when schools and colleges are closed during August.

"Once students have a place, they need time to find accommodation, finalise their financial support, and to prepare for their studies.

"Universities and colleges need time for interviews, auditions, and considering contextual information about applicants, and time to put in place support services to help care leavers, first in family, and disabled students, transition into higher education."

She added: "It's important to remember that predicted grades are just one part of a student's application. Universities take a holistic view of applicants' achievements and potential when deciding whether to make an offer."

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "Last year there were record rates of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university, which is up more than 50% from 10 years ago.

"Universities must ensure their admissions practices are fair, to ensure everyone can access higher education, or they will face action.

"The Office for Students and Universities UK are already undertaking a review of university admissions to look at how well current practices serve students and we urge all groups to support them to see how they can be improved."

Labour former education minister and vice chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, Bill Rammell, said: "The current system works against students from disadvantaged backgrounds who might not have access to the right level of advice on how to navigate our current complicated system."

He added: "While I agree there are practical challenges to changing the system these are not insurmountable, and a post qualification system would remove unpredictability from the system, be far simpler for the student and would take much of the current stress out of choosing a university."

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