A Labour government would abolish the system of making university offers based on predicted grades and introduce post-qualification admissions in England, the party announced ahead of A-level results day.
Labour said that the move – long discussed but long resisted by sections of higher education – would end a system that penalises poorer and ethnic minority students, as well as addressing the rise in unconditional offers.
However, Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, said that while the idea of post-qualification admissions has “a natural appeal, the UK-wide consultation Ucas ran in 2012 showed that, if introduced wholesale within the current timetables, it would be likely to significantly disadvantage under-represented and disabled students, unless secondary [school] and/or university calendars changed”.
The University and College Union has compiled several reports building the case for post-qualification admissions, one of which proposed a system in which first-year undergraduates could start their courses in November. Another of the UCU reports, by Gill Wyness, senior lecturer at the UCL Institute of Education, found that just 16 per cent of applicants’ grades were predicted accurately, with 24 per cent of AAB applicants from the lowest-income backgrounds underpredicted compared with 20 per cent of peers from the highest-income backgrounds.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said: “The higher education admissions system isn’t working for students, and radical action is needed to change that.
“Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions. No one should be left out of our education system just because of their background, yet with grants scrapped and fees tripled, the system is now deeply unfair.
“A Labour government will deliver the reform that is needed, implementing a new system of post-qualification admissions by the end of our first term in office. We will put students at the heart of the system, making it fairer, more accurate, and a genuine vehicle for social justice.
“We will work with schools, colleges, and universities to design and implement the new system, and continue to develop our plans to make higher education genuinely accessible to all.”
Jo Grady, UCU general secretary, said: “We have long called for an overhaul of university admissions and welcome Labour’s commitment to reform the system. Allowing people to apply after they receive their results would help level the playing field for students, remove the problems associated with unconditional offers and end the chaotic clearing scramble.”
Ms Marchant said: “Young people need their teachers’ support when making application choices, and this isn’t readily available to all at the scale required when schools and colleges are closed during August. Once students have a place, they need time to find accommodation, finalise their financial support, and to prepare for their studies. “Universities and colleges need time for interviews, auditions, and considering contextual information about applicants, and time to put in place support services to help care leavers, first in family, and disabled students transition into higher education.”
Ms Marchant added: “It’s important to remember that predicted grades are just one part of a student’s application. Universities take a holistic view of applicants’ achievements and potential when deciding whether to make an offer.”
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