Dismay greets PQA decision

May 26, 2006

Students and new universities find reforms to the admissions system too tame, writes Claire Sanders.

New universities and students were disappointed this week after the Government failed to commit to a full post-qualifications admissions system for at least six years.

Instead, the Government has largely accepted proposals put forward by the Russell and 1994 groups of universities to allow the relatively small number of students whose A-level results are better than predicted to reapply post-qualification from 2008. Universities will not, however, be required to reserve a fixed quota of places for this purpose.

Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, publishing the Government response to the consultation on PQA this week, said the 2008-09 reforms would lay the foundations for a "transformational move" to PQA in 2012.

Despite describing a PQA system as the fairest approach to university entry, Mr Rammell made no firm commitment to PQA. He said: "We believe that the reforms we recommend for 2008-09 will realise some of the key benefits of PQA and lay firm foundations for further steps in that direction.

"We want to build on the step change that these early reforms represent and, in light of experience of them, commit to working for the introduction of PQA from 2012. We have recommended a further review in 2010-11 to facilitate that objective."

A delivery partnership involving universities, colleges and schools will be set up to assess the changes and "review again" a move to PQA, he said.

Julian Nicholds, National Union of Students' vice-president for education, said: "The opportunity to apply after receiving your mark is so limited that we remain to be convinced that this is a PQA system at all."

Campaigning for Mainstream Universities, which represents post-92 universities, is similarly disappointed. It said that it would have preferred work to continue on full implementation.

Pam Tatlow, CMU's chief executive, said: "We will watch carefully to see how the 2008 reforms work. They cannot be about creaming off the best students to what are euphemistically called 'better' universities and disadvantaging those in clearing who need their offers confirmed, but will now have to wait longer."

Boris Johnson, the Shadow Higher Education Minister, said: "This reform is a muddle and is likely to add to the burdens on teachers and universities."

The Russell Group and the 1994 Group welcomed the changes.

A Russell Group spokesman said: "Some students do just miss their grades.

At the moment, Russell Group universities tend to consider the student in the round and admit them. Under the new system these places could go to someone applying late in the cycle."

Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of Exeter University, head of the 1994 Group and a member of the working party on PQA, said: "The new system will supply students with far more information and help them make better decisions. It is student focused and will help widen participation."

Universities UK welcomed the reforms but set three preconditions for any shift to a full PQA system: earlier publication of A-level and vocational exam results; progress in widening participation; and admissions procedures timed so as not to damage international applications.

The Government is concerned that predicted grades are inaccurate in 55 per cent of cases. But vice-chancellors have pointed out that 47 per cent of these are over-predictions, the bulk of which benefit students from lower socioeconomic groups.

claire.sanders@thes.co.uk

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