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“Fair admissions review” tackles predicted grades and unconditional offers

Universities UK (UUK) has launched a “Fair admissions review” which could see students applying to universities after receiving their A-level results, to the divided opinions of experts.

The review will consider whether or not applications should be based on predicted grades. This comes after universities have been under pressure to reduce the number of unconditional offers made.

The review will analyse “how admissions practices work…to identify the main challenges linked to admissions and offer-making practices including unconditional and contextual offers”.

The validity of the Schwartz principles outlined in 2004, which provides recommendations for fair admissions, will also be reviewed.

Changes for the “best practice in offer making” will be proposed to “ensure that university admissions work in the best interests of applicants and are fit for purpose in a rapidly changing post-18 education environment”.

UUK Chief Executive Alistair Jarvis said: “Universities will continue to make their own decisions on offers, but the review aims to build greater levels of transparency, trust and public understanding in admissions practices.”

Paul Cottrell, who heads the University and College Union (UCU), said an “overhaul of university admissions is long overdue”.

Currently, the process involves students applying to university months before they sit their exams, and universities making offers using grades predicted by schools.

Predicted grades have been criticised for being inaccurate. The Sutton Trust education charity reported that almost three-quarters of students did not receive the grades they were predicted.

Universities will continue to make their own decisions on offers, but the review aims to build greater levels of transparency, trust and public understanding in admissions practices

– Alistair Jarvis

A change to a “post-qualification applications” system has been proposed before by the Office for Students (OfS), but concerns have been raised as it would entail “structural change to either the secondary or higher education systems”, as expressed by the head of UCAS Clare Marchant.

She also warned that changes could “really backfire”, as “very vulnerable” students may be forced to make decisions in a short space of time with little support from their school over the summer holidays.

Mr Cottrell thinks otherwise. He said: “Our research shows such a move would not only be fairer for students, it would bring the UK into line with the rest of the world and eliminate the use of controversial unconditional offers and the chaotic clearing process.”

The “Fair admissions review” panel will consist of UCAS, school, college, student and university representatives. The recommendations will be published in Spring 2020.

Ms Marchant, who will sit on the panel, also said: “Students’ best interests must be the paramount consideration for universities and colleges when making offers.

“It’s essential that students are supported to make informed choices and the right decisions about their future.”

There have also been concerns that under the current system, some disadvantaged students might not even apply to university, especially the limited numbers who apply to the most selective institutions.

OfS Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge stated that reforms to the process would “remove barriers to disadvantaged applicants, and to promote transparency and clarity about admissions and offer-making processes”.

Scottish universities ran their own review of the admissions process in November 2017, with less attention being paid to an applicant’s exam results, but greater focus on their “skills, experience or potential”.

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