Practical hurdles hinder introduction of PQA

July 17, 2008

Many barriers remain to the introduction of a system in which students would apply to university after they get their exam results, according to a report this week.

Postqualification applications could harm the recruitment of international students and increase the risk of students dropping out, says a policy briefing from Universities UK that sets out recent changes to the admissions process.

Compressing the applications process into a shorter time frame between A-level results in August and the beginning of the university year could lead students to make poorly informed choices, and might not provide universities with enough time to interview applicants, it says.

The alternative of deferring the start of the university year to January would create "significant problems" of its own, with the length of the gap between finishing school or college and starting university making it more likely some students would change their minds and decide not to go to university.

Admissions: The Higher Education Sector's Plans for Change says about 14 per cent of higher education institutions are using admissions tests to help select students.

"Although admissions tests can be useful, many universities are concerned about the impact such tests will have on applicants," the report says. "They could represent an additional financial burden on applicants ... Another concern is that tests could give rise to an undesirable (and profitable) industry that would provide coaching for those who could afford it."

Rick Trainor, president of UUK, said universities were striving to improve the fairness and transparency of their admissions procedures and to ensure that they were "seen to be doing so".

"There is strong political and institutional interest in improving 'fair access' to higher education and, as this report shows, the sector is actively addressing the issue through the Delivery Partnership and the Supporting Professionalism in Admissions Programme," he said.

UUK said there was still support for PQA but there were "several practical hurdles" to be overcome before it could be introduced.

It also called for better information, advice and guidance in schools on the benefits of going to university.

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