Leader: Wait for real reform

September 9, 2005

Anything that would make the process of admission to higher education fairer ought to be welcome. A system that relies on predictions (more than half of which are wrong) cannot be defended if there is a way of using actual results without sacrificing the opportunity to consider applicants'

other qualities. But universities and colleges should beware of adopting an interim step to post-qualification applications that becomes a permanent replacement. The long and tortuous process that has led to next week's announcement will be difficult to restart if the outcome is a marginally better system in 2008. Those who find the current confusion convenient will argue that another swift change would be undesirable for applicants and institutions.

An improved clearing system would fall squarely into that category. The option for applicants to rethink in the event of unexpectedly good grades, with an expectation that selection would be more about quality than speed, would represent real improvement. But it does not offer the advantages of a genuine post-qualification system. Ministers should not be rushed into action on the basis of this atypical year. It has taken so long to get close to righting an obvious wrong that another year would be worth the wait for genuine reform.

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