A levels persist in dictating intake selection

January 9, 2004

Universities are increasingly likely to ignore the broader range of qualifications held by applicants following the introduction of Curriculum 2000, according to a report by the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority.

The study says that surveys of schools and colleges by the QCA and the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service indicated an "increasingly negative response" from universities.

Just under 60 per cent of respondents believed that higher education was failing to recognise that students now study a wider range of subjects.

The report says that some universities recognise increased breadth by awarding Ucas points to a wider range of qualifications, including the fourth AS level and key skills.

But it says that many still focus on A levels, although some are giving an alternative offer with a reduced grade requirement for applicants who took a fourth AS.

The report says that one of Curriculum 2000's goals is to allow students to expand the number and type of subjects they study in their final two years.

This has proved a "modest success", according to analysis of examination entry patterns in 2002-03.

The QCA has issued a report comparing A levels with the International Baccalaureate. It found examinations for the two qualifications similar in terms of the demands they placed on the candidate at individual subject level.

But, the report says, "the IB is as much a course of study as it is a qualification. It is designed to be a full-time course for highly committed and internationally minded students."

The A level, on the other hand, "is designed as a set of single-subject examinations that can be taken in combination with any other subjects or with none".

Not only do IB students need an international outlook, but so do the institutions they attend, the report says.

A lot of universities, particularly leading research institutions, jealously guard their autonomy over admissions, reserving the right to admit students on criteria of their own devising. For many, A levels - backed by interviews - remain a gold standard.

A Universities UK spokeswoman said that admissions were an issue for individual institutions and that a range of criteria, including A levels, was considered.

Both reports can be read at www.qca.org.uk/news

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