Leader: Don't fudge ambition

March 25, 2005

The consultation on post-qualification applications made it clear that the UK's predictions-based application process is finally going to change. But it is still not certain what will take its place. The original goal - a system that allows applicants to make all their selections after they receive their results - appears to be losing ground. Instead, the choice is coming down to different versions of a halfway house. The danger is that the outcome will be a fudge that misses the opportunity to produce a truly fair and efficient system.

The current favourite would see 15 per cent of places at each university reserved for a 21st-century clearing system, giving a second chance to those who apply late or achieve better results than expected. The level of disruption would be less than for a full PQA system but, inevitably, there is an element of guesswork in the number of places needed in "clearing".

Universities will vary considerably in the effect of trading up and the number of late applications. Either approach would bring a welcome end to the reliance on school grades which remain notoriously inaccurate, even though AS level now supplies half a candidate's marks. But giving students a chance to rethink is not the same as allowing them to start with a clean sheet. If one important object is to stimulate ambition, there is no substitute for the genuine article.

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