Delay term to aid fair entry, say top v-cs

August 27, 2004

Two prominent university heads declared for the first time this week that they would be willing to delay the start of the academic year to make it possible to select students after they have received their A-level results.

Most university heads support a move towards an admissions system based on results rather than predicted grades.

But Eric Thomas, vice-chancellor of Bristol University, and David Eastwood, vice-chancellor of the University of East Anglia, are the first to announce that they would be willing to delay the start of courses to make this a reality.

The concessions represent a major breakthrough in the efforts to establish post-qualifications admissions - which would bring an end to the annual rush for unfilled degree places in clearing.

Professor Thomas said he was "absolutely convinced" of the need to drop the predictive admissions system. He said: "I would certainly be prepared to delay the start of the first year, and I think the sixth forms and schools could be more flexible about putting back the dates of A levels so we have more time."

Professor Thomas said waiting until the results were in would encourage more state-school students to apply to top universities.

Professor Eastwood, a member of Mike Tomlinson's government working group on 14-19 reform, said both the school and university sectors would have to shift to make a post- results system work. He said: "You have to get the results out sooner and you have to push back the start of the university academic year."

But he warned that changes were more complex than people realised and further thinking was necessary. "If universities want to do large numbers of interviews in August, that will change the lifestyles of much of the country," he said.

Michael Driscoll, vice-chancellor of Middlesex University, said there was a lot of support among university heads for a change, but added: "I'm not sure about delaying the year - we already start later than countries such as the US."

Matthew Andrews, head of undergraduate admissions at Durham University, warned: "Across the sector at admissions-practitioner level there is scepticism about the benefits."

He predicted that a post-results system would concentrate solely on grades:

"All the things that allow us to look at the applicant as an individual would be lost."

A record 463,929 people applied to universities and colleges this year, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

Over 106,000 students were eligible for clearing, and Ucas received more than 20,000 calls within the first two days of A-level results.

Anthony Allen, marketing manager at Kingston University, said many good students were coming through clearing.

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