Students applying to university should be offered places based on their actual results rather than their predicted grades, the universities admissions service will say this week.
As part of a long-awaited policy change aimed at making the system fairer, Ucas will give “cautious backing” to a post-qualifications admissions (PQA) system in which students apply to universities before they get their results, as they do now, but will not receive offers until after they know their final grades.
The proposed new system would take at least three years to implement, according to Ucas, and the government would need to ensure that schools and colleges have the resources and support in place over the summer holidays to support students decide on their future.
The admissions service rejected a more radical proposal to delay both applications and offers until after A-level results as impractical.
John Cope, director of strategy, policy and public affairs at Ucas, speaking on Tuesday at an online event hosted by the AQA exam board, said: “The idea of moving the academic year to January is a step too far for us. It would put us out of sync internationally so it would make it very difficult in the international student market.”
He went on: “We will be cautiously backing post-qualification offers. There are certainly issues around predicted grades and moving away from them is something that Ucas would welcome.”
Vice-chancellors have already given their backing to a post-qualifications system after an 18-month review by their representative body, Universities UK (UUK), but debate has raged in the sector for years.
The Department for Education has launched a consultation on moving to a post-qualifications admissions (PQA) system in England which closes next month. The education secretary Gavin Williamson is known to be in favour of reform to ensure greater fairness for disadvantaged young people, including students from black and minority ethnic (BAME) groups.
Under the current system, sixth formers apply to university by January using grades predicted by their teachers, then sit A-levels in late spring and accept university offers by June. Results are published in August, meaning those who missed out on their required grades face a scramble to join clearing and find another course. Critics are concerned not only about the unreliability of predicted grades but the lack of transparency about entry requirements.
Colin Hughes, chief executive of AQA, said: “Post-qualification admissions could help more young people get the university places they deserve, but schools, exam boards and higher education all need to be willing to give a little to make it happen.”