Varsity place overhaul

Education | Brighten Youth Edu Centre 17 Nov 2020

Vice-chancellors have given their backing to a radical overhaul of university admissions - which would mean UK students will be offered places only once they have their A-level results.

The long-awaited policy change is intended to make the system fairer by eliminating the use of predicted grades. Such grades are now problematic for numerous reasons.

Even before Covid-19, frequent discrepancies between predicted and actual grades necessitated the process of clearing.

The loss or change of university choices is emotionally and financially stressful for students. Strategic planning was difficult for universities as huge institutions are inherently inflexible.

Academics would often be left scrabbling to pick up the slack, leaving them exhausted and stressed right before the start of term.

Better planning would leave academics with more time to update course schedules and reading lists, and support staff would no longer be overwhelmed and stuck with a short time frame to rectify any issues. Changes also support the current UK government's election promise to introduce radical improvements to the examination and admissions system after the cancellation of this year's exams.

Proposed changes to the system, which could be implemented as early as the 2023/24 academic year, would bring the UK in line with other countries.

The vice-chancellors' endorsement of a post-qualification admissions model came after an 18-month review by their representative body, Universities UK, but debate has raged in the sector for many years.

Under the proposed system, students will have longer to make their university choices and offers will only be made once the university has received an applicant's grades in August.

Providers will then have a one-week window before "offer day," and students a one-week window afterward to respond, followed by a clearing process for unplaced applicants.

There is yet no firm solution regarding what is to be done with courses which require interviews.

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."

The UUK review also calls for an end to "conditional unconditional offers" by which students are offered places regardless of exam results if they make an institution their firm choice. It also proposes a new code of practice.

In its current state, the new system would still not safeguard against the kind of sudden changes made to the examination timetable seen this year.

Examinations would still be required.

All that can be said at this point is that change is necessary, likely and supported by schools and universities. Students considering university within the next four years might be in for a tempestuous time.

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