Exams to get level pegging

July 26, 1996

Foreign qualifications such as the German Abitur or French Baccalaureat could be rated against British exam grades in a new tariff of student achievements.

The University and Colleges Admissions Service will announce in September the first stage of its "tariff matrix" which will ultimately give equivalent values for A levels, GNVQs, the International Baccalaureat, European Baccalaureat and Scottish Highers.

Talks are already planned with other European education bodies to see how it might be extended to include exams taken in their countries.

Ucas has been working closely with the Department for Education and Employment and Sir Ron Dearing over the last year on the project, designed to speed up admissions, give more information to applicants and universities and make the most of new technology.

As well as creating a unified measure of academic achievement, the matrix will present an on-screen profile of each student including skills such as numeracy and literacy and noting participation in work experience or sport.

It will also give a breakdown of subjects studied and levels achieved in each.

Ucas expects each student eventually to be issued with an individual number, perhaps based on National Insurance numbers, to keep throughout their academic careers from GCSE level to mature study.

Examination boards would feed results directly into the system, allowing universities and even potential employers to check students' qualification claims.

As part of the scheme, pilot universities are already drawing up their own profiles of the academic and other requirements they are looking for from candidates.

Malcolm Deere, who is developing the system for Ucas, said it was a response to the changing world of admissions where information was at a premium.

"The whole system is in flux and Ucas cannot have the luxury of standing still when caught between the diverse range of applicants and receivers," he said.

"We are changing from brokers to an information centre because that is how we are going to survive."

He said security would have to be tight to prevent the "nightmare scenario" of universities or employers hacking into the system to poach the best candidates.

But a legitimate benefit of the system would be to allow students and universities to match themselves up without necessarily going through the expense of attending or arranging interviews.

These costs are proving increasingly troublesome for institutions and students alike while admissions tutors admit that for many courses interviews play only a small part in their final choice of candidates.

Ucas has been looking at countries such as Ireland and Turkey where applications are administered entirely electronically. Applicants set out their preferences, universities state their requirements and when exam results arrive they are fed into the computer which allocates places automatically.

So far, reviews of Britain's admissions procedure have rejected taking the principle this far.

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