Pressure is mounting on the government and universities to reform the current UK university admissions system. The debate for change has been going on for years, as the UK is one of the only countries in the world where students apply to university with predicted grades rather than their actual grades.
The current system sees students apply for university with their predicted grades in the winter term, and receive university offers until the spring term. In summer students sit their exams and get their results in August. A common critique of the system is the controversial use of unconditional offers to lure students into accepting the university place, but can result in poorer exam results due to the lack of incentive to work hard. Students who accepted an unconditional offer were 11% more likely to miss their predicted A-Levels by three grades or more in 2019.
The use of predicted grades has also come under fire as it disproportionately impacts students from disadvantaged backgrounds who are often predicted lower grades than their counterparts, restricting which universities and courses they can apply to. The Department for Business Innovation and Skills discovered that just 51.7% of predicted grades are accurate, with Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, is calling for change to the admissions system and said: “Teachers work hard and diligently to provide accurate predicted grades, but it is not an exact science and never can be.”
What Are UCAS Proposing?
UCAS has put forward two ‘radical’ options to transform the university admissions system, the new system would come into force in 2023/24. The first option is a Post-Qualification Offers system, where universities would make offers to students after they have received their final grades in August. This is UCAS’ preferred option, it would not require any changes to term times and the application timeline. Students would apply to university as usual in Winter, then receive their results and university places in August.
The second option is a Post-Qualifications Admissions system. This choice would require students to apply for university after receiving their offers. This option raises some concerns as there is only a 7 week period between exam results and the start of university term, the sheer number of places to allocate would require an overhaul of university term times. In order for there to be enough time for applications to be properly submitted, assessed, and offers made and accepted the university term would need to begin in January not in September. Teachers have raised their concerns about this method as students require their teacher’s support with their applications, interviews, when choosing their next steps. If they are to apply to universities in August they will be left without help over the summer/will have left school by the time the Autumn term starts.
Who Supports The Change?
The debate for change has long raged on, with advocates from different levels, industries, organizations, and schools across the UK, notably including Universities UK, the Labour Party and university vice chancellors, who have thrown their support behind a post-qualification admissions system. The general consensus is the current system is flawed and needs to be reformed somehow.
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is a supporter of change, and said the current admissions system is a “hangover from the 1960s” and is no longer fit for purpose.
The University of Exeter’s professor of social mobility, Lee Elliot Major, said: “Applying to university with actual A-level grades would sweep away the barriers, from poor advice to low expectations, that for too long have stymied the prospects of poorer students.”
The director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, Chris Millward, agrees and adds: “There is evidence that disadvantaged students could benefit from a system where offers are made on the basis of grades achieved rather than predicted grades, particularly in applications to the most selective universities.
Writing to The Times in support of a Post-Qualification Admissions System, Louise Simpson, Head of Exeter School said: “[The fact] that universities are considering a post-results application system is a welcome, and long overdue, reform. A January start in the first year would ensure that all first-year students had a chance to travel or work before university, thereby gaining valuable life experience, and would avoid schools, universities and students themselves facing the stress of securing offers based on predicted grades. This year’s centre-assessed grades debacle demonstrated clearly how unrealistic predictions can be, and hence what a lottery offers are for some school leavers. Post-results offers would be much fairer for all concerned.”
When Would This Be Enforced?
The proposed changes would require a complete overhaul of the admissions system, and would not be implemented until 2023/24. UCAS lack the authority to implement the changes by themselves, and would require the full backing, resources, and support from the Department of Education and Universities. UCAS will be consulting the Department of Education, Universities UK, universities, colleges, schools, and teachers to establish an unbiased system that works in the best interest of all students, regardless of their backgrounds.
It’s worth noting that education is a devolved matter, and all four devolved nations would have to agree to the changes, otherwise it could result in the four nations using different admissions models which would create further problems and confusion for students.
Related Article: Will A-Level Exams in England be Cancelled?
By Clarissa Ducie