Question of degree without A levels

September 15, 1995

Maggie Woodrow (THES September 8) misses the point. Home students admitted to full-time first-degree courses at British universities have a number of privileges conferred upon them. They become entitled to their fees, a means-tested maintenance grant and an interest-free loan. It seems reasonable that they should demonstrate in advance their capacity to benefit.

For many years a minimum of two A levels or their equivalent, including vocational and access qualifications, has been accepted as indicating readiness for higher education. But that requirement has now been dropped. It is not only foundation courses that are admitting school-leavers who have failed their A levels.

It would be perfectly possible to operate a more open system with less reliance on entry qualifications but that would require three major changes: (1) a way of guaranteeing the quality of the exit qualifications; (2) a funding mechanism which enables students to contribute more towards their higher education; and (3) lengthening of courses, if necessary, beyond three years.

Dropping entry requirements without those necessary changes is giving rise to the difficulties we have been hearing about.

Alan Smithers University of Manchester

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