The use of predicted A-level grades to select undergraduates could be scrapped in three years under government proposals to overhaul admissions.
A consultation document published this week by the Department for Education and Skills spells out how universities could move towards a post-qualification applications (PQA) system at the end of the decade.
Under the Government's proposals, the first stage of reform in 2008 would create a clearing system in which places are awarded to the most suitably qualified candidate rather than on a first-come, first-served basis.
All students would apply to four rather than six institutions.
The Government said the system would help applicants make "better informed and more realistic choices", while institutions would receive better information about candidate.
The consultation resulted from a working group chaired by Sir Alan Wilson, the Government's director-general of higher education, and last year's Schwartz report on fair admissions. It suggests two longer-term options that could be implemented in 2010-11: introducing a full PQA system; or asking institutions to reserve a proportion of places until after A-level results are published.
The Government's consultation will run until December 5.
Bill Rammell, the Higher Education Minister, said that only 45 per cent of predicted grades were accurate and that students from low-income families were most likely to have their performance underestimated.
He said: "The existing system has many good features, but it is least fair to the poorest students. That has to change.
"These proposals are designed to improve the situation and test some of the benefits of a future PQA-type system. I want every student to have the chance to fulfil their potential and get a higher education place based on actual ability rather than predictions."