University course leaders have little understanding of the further education qualifications held by applicants, according to a study funded by AimHigher, the Government's university access programme.
A telephone poll of 14 course leaders in art, design and media at four London institutions found only five had a clear understanding of the differences between further education qualifications in their subjects.
The survey report, Closing the Gap II, says it was not "a complete surprise" that there were misunderstandings.
"What is perhaps still startling is the extent of those misunderstandings and the fact that they can extend to confusion over the qualifications of the very students that they take on to their courses, let alone the ones they turn down," it says.
Respondents did not understand the level of a foundation degree and confused this with a foundation diploma. Those polled were also unsure about the distinctions between advanced vocational certificates of education, vocational Alevels and applied A levels. They also confused the Btec national diploma with the diploma in foundation studies (art and design) and the new 14-19 creative and media diploma.
More than half were "vague" about their course's entry requirements and whether or not the Btec national diploma was an acceptable qualification to their courses.
The report recommends that staff involved in recruitment find out in detail about the full range of qualifications held by candidates. Prospectus material should provide more detailed information about which qualifications are accepted and at what level, it adds.
Dafydd Thorne, the report's author, suggested that the sector's confusion over current qualifications did not bode well for the new 14-19 diplomas, which will be offered from September.
"Nobody really seems to know what the new diplomas are for. Some people think they are a direct replacement for A levels, some for Btec nationals and some think they are going to fit between the two," he said.
Deian Hopkin, vice-chancellor of London South Bank University and a champion of the new diplomas, said: "We do have a very complicated landscape of qualifications in this country, and it's hardly surprising that tutors find it difficult to negotiate. This is a timely reminder that communication with admissions tutors needs to be more extensive than it has been."
The survey did not find any evidence of negative attitudes towards further education.
Descriptions of A-level students were overwhelmingly negative: they were seen as "immature", "not ready", "the least prepared" and "spoon-fed". In contrast, foundation diploma students had "discovered what they want to do" and were seen as "better motivated", "more innovative" and "more independent".
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