Schwartz 'must look at access'

June 4, 2004

Universities, unions and students have reiterated concerns that proposed reforms to university admissions practices fail to address the key issue of increasing intakes of pupils from poor backgrounds, many of whom take vocational qualifications.

The comments are made in responses to the interim recommendations of the Schwartz report, which aims to create a fairer and more transparent admissions system.

In its response, Cambridge University argues that in focusing on admissions the report neglects the problem of reaching underrepresented applicants from the lowest social backgrounds.

"Universities cannot single-handedly compensate for the shortcomings of, and lack of investment in, the secondary education system," it says. "To widen participation, and to make admissions processes as fair as possible, access and aspiration have to be addressed in the first place ."

Universities UK, meanwhile, chimes with the views of many responses when it highlights the report's narrow focus on young A-level entrants and its "silence" on those who study via non-conventional routes.

The main concern for lecturers' union Natfhe is the report's "very significant emphasis on A-level qualifications". The union says that other Level 3 qualifications, rather than A levels, must be emphasised, with a "clear recommendation that institutions should be willing to accept them for courses to which they can appropriately apply.

"The underlying assumption appears to be that candidates will be young and applying for full-time courses, and the fact that this is not the case should be spelt out."

Last Friday was the deadline for responses to the review led by Steven Schwartz, vice-chancellor of Brunel University. The report, which recommends that universities should judge pupils on their actual results rather than predicted grades, is due to issue its final recommendations to the Government later in the year.

The vice-chancellors accept a post-qualifications admissions system in principle, but only if universities have enough time between the release of A-level results and the start of the academic year.

In its response, the National Union of Students calls for admissions good practice to include "alternative ways of looking at student potential beyond the traditional measures". It calls for the Office for Fair Admissions to issue guidelines on admissions policies to ensure they are fair.

Applicants to degree courses should be limited to four choices on their forms rather than six, to cut the numbers vying for places on popular courses, the Academic Registrars' Council Admissions Practitioners' Group says.

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