A-level students
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Vice-chancellors support calls to reform HE admissions

Vice-chancellors have signalled that they will back proposals to reform HE admissions, meaning that UK students will only be offered places at university once they have their results.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced the move on 13 November, saying he hoped it would “remove the unfairness” that some groups face due to inaccurate predicted grades.

The system was endorsed by vice-chancellors after an 18-month review by Universities UK (UUK), and could be introduced as early as the 2023/24 academic year.

Under the proposed system, institutions will only make offers to students once they have received an applicant’s grades in August. Providers will have a one-week window before “offer day”, and students would have a one-week window to respond.

This would be followed by a clearing process for unplaced applicants.

UCAS data for 2019 shows that 79% of 18-year-olds in the UK accepted to university with at least three A-levels had their grades over-predicted, while 8% were under-predicted.

Numerous academic studies suggest that pupils from working-class backgrounds, and those who belong to BAME groups, tend to be predicted lower grades by their teachers, and it is suggested that a post-qualifications admissions (PQA) system could disadvantage these groups less than the existing system.

Professor Quintin McKellar, vice-chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire and chair of UUK’s Fair Admissions Review, said: “Any change to PQA must be taken forward carefully by universities, with further consultation with students, government, and those working across the education sector.”

We should celebrate the fact that we are seeing record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university, but the current admissions system is letting down the brightest pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

– Gavin Williamson

Dr Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “The current system is based on inaccurately predicted results and leads to those from less affluent backgrounds losing out. Allowing students to apply after they receive their results will help level the playing field and put a stop to the chaotic clearing scramble.”

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, added: “Teachers work hard and diligently to provide accurate predicted grades, but it is not an exact science and never can be. Post-qualification admissions would be better and fairer.”

A consultation will now be carried out, but it is expected that the change to PQA will take place before the 2024 general election.

Mr Williamson said: “We should celebrate the fact that we are seeing record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university, but the current admissions system is letting down the brightest pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

“By using predicted grades, it is limiting the aspirations of students before they know what they can achieve.

“We need to explore how to 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.”

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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