A single point score system for all qualifications used to enter higher education may be created to put vocational study on an equal footing with A levels, it emerged this week.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service has received funding from the Department for Education and Employment and the Schools Curriculum and Assessment Authority to develop a scheme which will award points for Access courses, General National Vocational Qualifications, and "core skills" units in areas like communication and numeracy, as well as more traditional qualifications.
The move, announced by UCAS chief executive Tony Higgins at a seminar in Oxford on Wednesday, has been seen as a possible first step towards the creation of a new, overarching entry qualification, which could topple the A level from its present "gold standard" status.
UCAS is working closely with Sir Ron Dearing's review of qualifications for 16 to 19-year-olds, which has already floated the idea of National Certificates on which would be recorded both academic and vocational achievement.
A similar proposal is being developed by the Labour Party, which has suggested that a new General Certificate of Further Education or an Advanced Diploma should be created.
Mr Higgins said the proposed point score system would be designed to overcome inequities and misunderstandings perpetuated by the present A-level point score, used to compile school and college league tables.
"If you put all these qualifications on a single tariff then you can start to see the real relative merits of them. It also brings in the concept of a single overarching statement of achievement," he said.
The findings of a UCAS research project, to be released at the end of this month, will show that the new Advanced GNVQ, otherwise known as the "vocational A level", can be as good a preparation for higher education as the A level.
A close examination of the experience of three universities and two further education colleges found that admissions tutors were often looking for a broad base of skills as much as specialised knowledge.
But some felt GNVQ students who had not extended their experience beyond compulsory units and had little practice in essay writing could be at a disadvantage.