Students could apply to university after they have received their A-level grades
By Eleanor Busby
Students’ university offers could be based on their actual grades rather than teachers’ predictions under proposals by the admissions body.
Ucas will publish two options for reform in the coming weeks to better support disadvantaged students who are often under-predicted and less likely to apply to selective universities under the current admissions system.
A post-qualification application (PQA) model – where students would apply to university after receiving their A-level grades and then they would start their courses in January – is one of the proposals being considered.
The other option is that students would apply in the usual way, but they would receive offers from universities only after they receive their results in August.
Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, said: “Now is the time to take a serious look at reforming the admissions timetable, which we have been doing over the last few months with universities, colleges, students, and schools.”
John Cope, Ucas’ director of strategy, policy, and public affairs, said: “What happened on results day this year means concerns around predicted grades need to be addressed.
“Access to impartial, high-quality information, advice, and personalised support during the months when students are considering their options is essential to level up opportunity, which is why consideration must be given to reforming admissions, so life-changing decisions are made on the certainty of actual exam results, not predictions.”
Last month, a Sutton Trust survey found that the majority of young people who applied to university this year thought it would be fairer for students to only submit an application once they had received their final grades.
Working-class applicants were more likely to say they would have applied to a more selective university if they had known their A-level grades, it found.
This summer, final grades were awarded on the basis of school assessments, or the results of an Ofqual-developed algorithm, after exams were cancelled.
But only 38% of applicants received grades that matched their teachers’ predictions, the Sutton Trust poll found.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: “Reform of university applications is long overdue, and we agree it needs overhauling to make it fairer on students with the introduction of a system where they apply to universities with their A-level or other equivalent results already in hand.
“The most radical post-qualifications model would mean a substantial change to the academic calendar with students starting university in January and the detail would clearly need to be carefully considered. However, this issue has been put in the too-difficult drawer for too long.”
But Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), said leaving some key decisions until after A-level results day was “not at all straightforward to do in practice.”
“It would introduce new problems while solving old problems,” he said.
Mr Hillman added: “Moving university entry to January would mean another long break in education for young people whose education has already been badly disrupted.”
Universities UK (UUK), an organisation which represents vice-chancellors, will publish its own findings of a review into fair admissions in the next few weeks.
The review will make recommendations on best practice in offer making and it will propose changes to ensure the admissions system works in the best interests of applicants.
A UUK spokesman: “Working with school and college leaders, this will set out the university sector’s views on how we can achieve greater transparency, trust and confidence in the admissions system.
“It is premature to look at the PQA issue in isolation from the review’s wider recommendations.”
A Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman said: “We remain committed to delivering on our manifesto pledge to improve the admissions system.
“We are exploring options that will ensure it is as fair and transparent as possible, and works for every student.”