Post-qualification applications plan ‘unworkable’, v-cs warn

Moving to an entirely post-results admissions system would harm students and higher education institutions, says Universities UK

May 13, 2021
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The Westminster government’s proposal for students to apply to English universities once they have received their exam results is “unworkable” and would cause enormous problems for pupils, schools and universities, vice-chancellors have warned.

In its response to the Westminster government’s consultation on post-qualification admissions (PQA), which was published on 13 May, Universities UK (UUK) says that while it recognises that the move away from the use of predicted grades has the “potential to increase fairness”, it has major qualms about possible impacts of the reforms.

Specifically, a move to post-qualification applications – in which students apply to higher education after receiving their exam results – would represent an “unmanageable overhaul to admissions timetabling, creating an unacceptably small window during which applications, offers and confirmation must be undertaken which would not result in an improved outcome for students”, it says.

Describing the model as “unworkable”, UUK insists that it would place “huge pressure” on students who required assessment for disability or health support, or for those applying for student loans and bursaries, or for those seeking accommodation. Schools would also have to deal with disruptions to “secondary education timetabling, exam sitting and exam marking”, the umbrella body representing 140 universities adds.

In practice, it would require the delay of the academic year until January, which would “leave many disadvantaged students without access to proper information, advice and guidance during a critical phase of the application process over the summer/autumn”, it explains.

This delay would also harm the UK’s ability to attract international students given that countries could admit candidates from September, it adds.

A second model of post-qualification offers (PQO) – in which prospective students would apply at the same time as now but receive firm offers only after they had learned their results – was “preferable” to post-qualification applications, explains UUK, but would also require some “fundamental adjustments” to work effectively and improve student outcomes.

Schools would need to release of a certain amount of applicant information to allow for the scheduling of interviews, while the system should allow for early rejections where deemed necessary and where clearly in a student’s interest.

“It would also help to retain the relationships that build between applicants and universities ahead of enrolment,” added UUK, saying this system’s introduction “must not be rushed”.

In its response, the Russell Group cautiously backed the PQO system. Its chief executive, Tim Bradshaw, said that the “wholescale change to admissions will present significant challenges” but added that “of the options presented by government, a PQO system – if designed appropriately – could allow universities to balance supporting students with making admissions practices fairer”.

Quintin McKellar, vice-chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire and chair of UUK’s fair admissions review, said the “government is heading in the right direction in its consultation, but we need to get the detail right so we can truly improve fairness and transparency for students”.

“Everyone involved in the education system – teachers, students, universities, colleges and schools – should work together with the UK government to carefully take forward admissions reform,” added Professor McKellar.

jack.grove@timeshighereducation.com

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