Offa chief gives tentative nod to post-qualification entry

November 12, 2004

Universities could "reserve" up to a tenth of their places until A-level results are published to give students who underestimate their grades the chance to apply for popular courses, the new access regulator said this week, writes Paul Hill.

Sir Martin Harris, director of the Office for Fair Access, said universities could "take a step" towards a system of post-qualification applications (PQA) by holding 5 to 10 per cent of places open until mid-August.

Although he stressed that this was a suggestion rather than official Offa policy, his comments coincided with the publication last Monday of a report by the influential Secondary Heads' Association on how PQA could work.

As The Times Higher first revealed in October, the SHA proposed that sixthformers be allowed to "register interest" in two universities before their A-level exams and to finalise their choice after their results rather than apply with predicted grades.

John Dunford, SHA general secretary, branded the current system "extremely wasteful and inefficient".

The report echoes the findings of the Schwartz inquiry into fair admissions, which suggests that half of all predicted grades are wrong.

The SHA proposals are expected to form the starting point for the Government's thinking about a practical PQA scheme being considered by a Department for Education and Skills working group, being led by Sir Alan Wilson, the director-general of higher education.

The working group, which includes the vice-chancellors of Exeter and Staffordshire universities, held its first meeting at the end of October and is expected to make formal recommendations to Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, in April.

Under the proposals, candidates would "register" their preliminary choice of two universities around April 30 to give institutions an indication of likely numbers.

Between April and the publication of A-level results in August, universities could hold "non-binding" interviews and conduct admissions tests.

Once they had their results, candidates would make their two choices and then wait for an offer.

Those candidates who are not offered a place would have a short time to make a different choice based on an online course vacancy list maintained by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

  • Informal talks are under way between the Student Loans Company and "a number of higher education institutions" about setting up a centrally operated bursary scheme in 2006.

The Times Higher has learnt that the SLC is drawing up plans on how it could manage bursary schemes on behalf of universities after the introduction of variable tuition fees in two years.

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