Transforming the tariff

April 24, 2014

Ucas points have served us well for more than 10 years. The tariff helps universities to attract and make offers to the widest possible range of students, and the inclusion of the average entry tariff in national league tables gives applicants an idea of the prior attainment of current students. But an explosion of new qualifications means that it is now time to update the tariff.

Data from the Department for Education show that in 2012 only 51 per cent of 16- to 18-year-olds studying full-time were taking A levels alone, with 49 per cent taking vocational qualifications or a mix of academic and vocational courses. The range and combination of qualifications that propel people into higher education has changed and as a result universities, schools, colleges and governments would like more vocational qualifications to be included in the tariff to support progression and widen participation.

Ucas has spent more than a year working with institutions and qualifications’ regulators to develop and test a new tariff with help from the secondary sector, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, and FFT, a not-for-profit education group. We have been very fortunate to have advice and support from a dedicated advisory group, chaired by Paul Teulon, director of admissions at King’s College London.

The new tariff has been designed to be simple and transparent. Points are calculated by multiplying an assessment of a qualification’s size by a measure of its grade value using information provided by regulators, initially in the UK, but potentially from outside, too. This new model can accommodate far more UK qualifications than the current tariff and could include international qualifications as well. And it is flexible enough to allow for the changes resulting from qualifications reforms.

One significant move we are proposing is to reposition the AS to 40 per cent rather than 50 per cent of an A level, as Ofqual has stated that the AS is not equal to half the A level. This will also reduce the points allocated to other qualifications that are considered to be aligned to the AS.

We want to publish details of the new tariff in the summer for implementation in the 2017 admissions cycle. This means that students applying from September 2016 to start courses in autumn the following year will be doing so under the new tariff system. This timetable also aligns with the introduction of the majority of the new UK benchmark qualifications.

We are now asking universities, colleges, schools, awarding organisations and those representing students to take a look at the technical details of the new tariff and give us feedback to ensure that implementation is a success.

Helen Thorne
Director of policy and research, Ucas

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