Jarvis: publish historic entry grades to make admissions fairer

Universities UK chief executive urges greater transparency in admissions

November 26, 2020
Alistair Jarvis

Higher education institutions should publish details of the grades achieved by the students that they enrol, as well as their advertised entry requirements, in order to make admissions fairer, according to the chief executive of Universities UK.

Speaking on a panel at Times Higher Education’s THE Live event, Alistair Jarvis said that, to make admissions fairer, they would have to be more transparent.

Research has indicated that about half of predicted grades are inaccurate, but many students who fall short of the terms of their offer are still accepted. Other studies have shown that less privileged students are much more likely than their more affluent classmates to “under-match” and apply for courses with lower entry requirements than their actual grades.

One way to address this, Mr Jarvis said, would be “to publish the historic and actual entry grades alongside the required entry grades, so that when students are applying for a course, they know what previous students on that course got in with”.

“Increasing that transparency does have an impact on fairness and it also supports applicants’ decision-making and raises their aspirations. I’d like to see greater transparency about what grades people are actually getting on courses with,” he said.

UUK recently published a review of admissions that backed a move to a system of “post-qualification offers” from 2023-24. Under this model, students would apply to university using their predicted grades but would not receive their offers until after their results.

Mr Jarvis said that, while major reforms needed to be implemented gradually and carefully, “we’ve got to put in place things to stop the chaos from this year’s A-level results happening [again] – that needs to be addressed now”.

Greater transparency over historic entry grades was one thing that could be done immediately, as was increased use of contextual admissions, under which course entry requirements are lowered for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Mr Jarvis urged the development of clear standard indicators to support the use of contextual offers. Others on the panel agreed that such offers would be vital for students entering university in 2021, after the disruption of the pandemic.

Baroness Amos, master of University College, Oxford, warned that “the 2021 intake will be dominated by students from advantaged backgrounds if we are not vigilant”.

Delaying A-level exams by three weeks would not be enough to counteract the loss of schooling brought on by Covid-19, particularly for disadvantaged students, she said.

“We know that only 38 per cent of students had access to full schooling during lockdown, but at independent schools that was as high as 74 per cent,” she said. “We need to look very carefully at contextualised data, we need many more support programmes as [students] are coming in, we need to think through how we identify and reward the potential of students who have been through the disruption and we need to be very clear in our messaging and our narrative.”

Chris Skidmore, England’s former universities minister, said that the UK government “needed to switch from firefighting to planning” on admissions policy.

He agreed that transparency around admissions was important but added with transparency comes “a duty to be able to communicate that data effectively to applicants and to demonstrate to the wider schools system what they might be expecting in future”.

“This crisis has demonstrated that the current system, while well-intentioned, is not fit for future purpose,” Mr Skidmore said. “We are going to see a ripple effect through the system from Covid and we’ve got to be able to adapt”.

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Jarvis: publish past entry grades to make admissions fairer

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