Hundreds of school and college leavers expecting to gain new vocational A levels have had their hopes of a place in higher education dashed by red tape.
Admissions chiefs said this week they were "seriously concerned" that administrative delays in awarding Advanced General National Vocational Qualifications were preventing students from taking up conditional offers.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service called for a review of GNVQ certification procedures after the heads of the national bodies which oversee the qualifications admitted that up to a third of students awaiting awards could be stuck in the system because of hold-ups in paperwork.
The National Council for Vocational Qualifications and the Joint Council of National Vocational Awarding Bodies claimed that apparently poor completion rates among Advanced GNVQ students were likely to improve considerably by October as schools, colleges and awarding bodies got round to organising certification of students' achievements.
They said the experience of last year's round of awards suggested the number of completions reported, 13,000 out of 42,000 students who embarked on courses in 1992 and 1993, would double over the next two months.
But Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS, said this would probably be too late for students who knew they would gain a GNVQ but needed the paperwork as proof to take up the offer of a place.
"It appears there may be many people who completed coursework assignments during the summer but have to wait for them to be checked and processed before they can get a certificate. They are unlikely to get a place this year," he said.
Critics of GNVQs, launched by John Major in 1991 and heavily promoted by ministers as a new route into higher education, say that college tutors have been swamped by paperwork generated by a bureaucratic assessment regime brought in by the new qualifications.
This has led to what the NCVQ has described as "teething problems" in the delivery of courses leading to the award of GNVQs. Though the qualifications are designed so that students do not need to complete within a set period, these problems have had a significant impact on some students hoping to enter higher education.
At Wirral Metropolitan College, one of the biggest providers of GNVQ courses in the country, students expecting to gain Advanced GNVQs in business and finance discovered too late that their assignment work was incomplete.
Student Leon Ross said tutors had sent him a note to say more assignment work was needed, even though he had completed everything set at the beginning of the course. Lecturers responsible for the course are on holiday, and a place at Leeds Metropolitan University has now been withdrawn. "I don't understand what has happened and I feel a bit let down," he said.
* An internal circulating in the Department for Education and Employment suggests lines to take following publication of various examination results between August 17 and 24.
The note by a senior official in the department, David Forrester, says that if results have "improved", then "we will press the competitiveness button, drawing attention to the way that this puts us further on course towards the National Targets etc".
If, however, the results show a "deterioration" or fall short of expectation, then the department "will emphasise the high standards expected of all who aspire towards our rigorous qualification, whether old and established or new and improving". Mr Forrester says that "ideally, of course we will have enough 'improvement' to be able to press the competitiveness button, but not too much - so that we can also emphasise that standards have been fully maintained".