Leader: Unsatisfying fudge

May 26, 2006

Governments cannot tell universities how to organise their admissions, so this week's statement on post-qualification applications had to be more wish list than diktat. Nevertheless, when did we last hear a minister talking of a "desire" for institutions to work towards changes six years hence? Many will interpret the statement as a signal that a little tidying up of the existing admissions system is all that is required.

Perhaps that is the right approach for the times (although it would be more courageous to say so directly). Admissions officers face more than enough imponderables with the introduction of top-up fees and the additional risk (addressed by Sir Martin Harris, opposite) of discounting in clearing. They would not welcome yet more upheaval in the near future.

Bill Rammell's statement, following consultation on the proposals of Sir Alan Wilson's working group, contained sensible ideas for improvements to the current system: the provision of better information for applicants and increased use of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service Extra system, for example. But the transition to possible PQA procedures represents a fudge that satisfies neither school nor higher education admissions specialists. The next review, tentatively scheduled for 2010, must establish at the outset whether there is any prospect of making the structural changes necessary to introduce real fairness and transparency in admissions with a full-blown PQA system.

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