University admissions system to be reformed under new government plan

13 November 2020, 19:46

The admissions system currently works on universities offering places before final grades are obtained
The admissions system currently works on universities offering places before final grades are obtained. Picture: PA

The Education Secretary has announced plans to reform the university admissions system which could see students receive offers from universities only once they have their final grades.

Gavin Williamson will consider moving to a post-qualifications admissions (PQA) system in England, where applicants receive university places based on their actual exam results, to "remove the unfairness" that some groups face due to inaccurate predicted grades.

Students, at present, receive university places based on predicted grades - many of which are often inaccurate.

The change to the system would also put a stop to unconditional offers, which are sometimes given to students regardless of their actual exam results.

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Such offers, according to the Department for Education, are not always in the best interests of students and can leave them unprepared for their future studies.

It can also work against high-achieving students from disadvantaged backgrounds as these are students who are more likely to receive predicted grades lower than reality.

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Universities UK (UUK), which represents vice-chancellors, has said a PQA system could be introduced by 2023/24, with this date being subject to further consultation with the sector.

At present, 79% of 18-year-old in the UK accepted to university with at least three A-levels have their grades over-predicted.

This is compared with 8% who are under-predicted.

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In a statement, Mr Williamson said it should be celebrated that more disadvantaged students were going to university, but said the current admissions system was "letting down the brightest pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds."

He added: "By using predicted grades it is limiting the aspirations of students before they know what they can achieve.

"We need to radically change a system which breeds low aspiration and unfairness.

"That is why we are exploring how best to transform the admission process to one which can propel young people into the most promising opportunities for them within higher education.

"It has been a challenging time for the education sector, but COVID-19 will not stop this government from levelling the playing field and empowering students to have the very best opportunities to succeed."

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Meanwhile, Clare Marchant, chief executive of UCAS, said: "We support the government taking a serious look at reforming the admissions timetable, which we have been doing over the last few months with universities, colleges, students, and schools.

"There are different approaches to reform, so it's right for any consultation to be open minded and have the aim of levelling up fairness for students.

"Importantly, the consultation will provide an opportunity to address any unintended consequences of such major change, as well as practicalities for higher education providers."

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