Patience runs out in Scotland

August 25, 2000

The Scottish Highers marking fiasco has added to the usual clearing confusion

Scottish universities have lost patience with the Scottish Qualification Authority's delays in revising pupils' examination results, with a number of institutions opting to bypass the official system.

Stirling, Aberdeen, Napier, Heriot-Watt and Paisley universities have decided to start using candidates' predicted grades when processing conditional offers to pupils whose Highers results are incomplete. Admissions systems have been in chaos for the past three weeks because of missing SQA data.

Aberdeen's senior vice-principal, Ian Macdonald, said: "The University of Aberdeen feels that students with missing Higher results have waited long enough to have their university place confirmed." About 60 applicants were affected, he said.

Paul Travill, senior operations manager for Napier's registry service, said the university had been unable to process about 350 applications because of missing results. It had now decided that it would consider applicants on the basis of their predicted results and past exam performance.

The Scottish Higher Education Funding Council is also helping to relieve the problems. It has accepted a plea from the Committee of Scottish Higher Education Principals to allow institutions greater flexibility in recruitment. Institutions this year faced financial penalties if they overshot by 3 per cent, or under-recruited by 1.5 per cent. But Shefc has now relaxed the targets to 4 per cent and 2.5 per cent.

David Wann, Shefc's director of funding, said the move was to help ensure candidates receiving late notification of results were not disadvantaged. Coshep said institutions would now be able to create extra places on courses to accommodate students who might otherwise have lost out.

An SQA spokesman said it had sent 2,000 letters of confirmation to Highers candidates whose results were incomplete. A further 1,000 were due to be sent out midweek, with the remaining 2,000 expected to be confirmed by the weekend. The SQA expects to run the appeals process for higher education applicants by September 20. Coshep said it was possible that some institutions would have started teaching before the appeals process was complete. "This is not out of the ordinary, and even under usual circumstances, candidates awaiting appeals are admitted to courses up to two weeks after the start of teaching," a Coshep spokesman said. "Coshep does not anticipate this causing significant difficulties, either for institutions or candidates."

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service this week announced that the number of higher education entrants was up on last year, despite a drop in the Scottish numbers. Almost 259,000 candidates had accepted places for the coming year, 1,235 more than the same time last year.

The number of Scottish applicants with a place is still 6.6 per cent down on 1999, with the overall number of applicants gaining places in Scotland down by 8.7 per cent. But Ucas chief executive Tony Higgins said the number of Scots whose places were now being confirmed was rising every day, and the final number could be higher than last year.

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