January university start ‘off the table’ for UK admissions reform

Ucas signals that admissions body has moved towards supporting post-qualification offers

November 25, 2020
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UK admissions service Ucas has dropped the idea of pushing the start of students’ first year of university back to January, just weeks after proposing it.

Speaking at a Universities UK event on improving student access, John Cope, director of strategy, policy and public affairs at Ucas, said the organisation was “united” with the vice-chancellors’ group that “a January start is a bad idea” and “should be off the table” in the discussion about moving to a post-qualification admission system.

The idea had been proposed by Ucas earlier in November as one of two options for a future UK admissions system. It would have seen UK students apply to university only after they had received their exam results, and they would then start their first year in January. A second option proposed that students would apply before receiving their results but would not have to choose from their offers until afterwards.

UUK’s admissions review, published on 13 November, recommended that the UK move to the post-qualifications offer system. It said a fully post-qualification application system would cause too much upheaval and that shifting the academic year would affect the UK’s international competitiveness.

Mr Cope agreed that a January start would “put the UK completely out of sync internationally and would, in my view, be deeply negative and we couldn’t mitigate that”.

He added that the five-month “abyss” between A-levels results day and January would put “huge pressure” on students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who would need to find work or other opportunities and might “just disappear”.

The proposal for post-qualification offers appears to be gaining traction across the sector. Mr Cope said that while it “would create some issues”, post-qualification offers would address the problem of the accuracy of predicted grades, with disadvantaged young people’s marks the most likely to be underpredicted, as well as the fact that the current system asks young people to make “a huge life-changing decision on partial information”.

For Mr Cope, the most important thing would be the upcoming consultation on admissions reforms promised by the education secretary, Gavin Williamson. “The government has to listen to all of the practical issues that reform will create for universities and colleges,” he said. Ucas would publish more details on its proposals soon, he said.

However, “we are kidding ourselves if we think that admissions reforms will solve all the issues in equal access and widening participation”, Mr Cope warned. “We can’t think of this as a silver bullet. It is not going to solve all the issues. However, there is good reason this keep coming back on to the agenda.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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