Elite bag the best through clearing

August 22, 2003

Tensions are running high as A-level grades rise and selection becomes more difficult. The THES reports.

Elite universities were quick to snap up the best students through clearing this year, leaving those that traditionally recruit this way with unfilled places.

Some 3,700 students had found a place through clearing by Tuesday this week, up 17 per cent on the same point last year. Overall, the number of applicants accepted through the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is up 5 per cent.

Cath Orange of Leeds Metropolitan University, who chairs the Universities Admissions Practitioners Group, said: "There has been a flurry where students have asked to be released. It's more of a market. I say good luck to them, but it's tough on us."

Students were so quick off the mark that the University of Newcastle took just a few days to fill its places through clearing.

Other Russell Group institutions still have room for candidates gaining good grades. The University of Birmingham advises hopeful students: "Before we can talk to you about a possible vacancy here, we need to know that you are not committed to any other institution within the Ucas scheme."

At the other end of the scale, London Metropolitan University is advertising places on 240 degree courses.

The problems for institutions that recruit rather than select students have been compounded by a delay in the availability of the key skills results.

The Department for Education and Skills has intervened but, as The THES went to press, results had yet to be relayed to universities. Thousands of students faced being automatically but incorrectly rejected by default by Ucas because they had not been credited with enough points.

The shift in power from universities selecting students to students selecting universities coincided with calls this week for the introduction of new entrance tests that would begin to reverse the trend. The matter will be discussed by the Universities Admissions Practitioners Group in October.

Shadow education secretary Damian Green has called for the marks of candidates to be published, rather than their grades. He said: "You can't blame universities for finding their own solution to the A-level problem.

With more than 20 per cent getting A grades, it is impossible for universities to distinguish between the excellent and the very good."

Mike Tomlinson, the former chief inspector of schools, who published his report on monitoring the A-level awarding process this week, called for applicants to write dissertations to help top universities select students.

A spokeswoman for Universities UK said: "We welcome Mike Tomlinson's emphasis on the need for any new diploma to stretch the very brightest candidates and to provide enough information about students'

performance. This is vital so universities can continue to select and recruit the best candidates."

"Proposals for an extended student essay are certainly interesting and we look forward to further discussion on this and all the issues as the working group prepares its final report to ministers. It is, of course, vital that the potential knock-on effects are fully explored in consultation with the sector."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, suggested he would back the use of Scholastic Aptitude Tests.

Philanthropist Sir Peter Lampl said he was planning a trial of 50,000 candidates taking SATs this autumn.

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