Staff reject tariff reforms

December 17, 1999

Reforms to the tariff system for A levels will put students under more pressure to achieve set grades in specified subjects to get into top universities, admissions tutors warned this week.

Staff at top institutions have rejected the new tariff for A-level grades unveiled by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service last week. The tariff equates an A grade to three Es rather than the present five E grades. Some universities are refusing to use the new system because it would diminish ways of discriminating between different students' academic achievements.

"We will make grade offers," said Bill Stephenson, maths admissions tutor at University College London. "My reaction to the new tariff is... I won't be using it."

He added: "I don't think UCAS and (UCAS chairman) Tony Higgins represent universities' opinions very well."

Katherine Lloyd Clark, assistant registrar for undergraduate admissions at the University of Warwick, and Jacqueline Henshaw, head of admissions at the University of Manchester, said they would continue to make offers on the basis of grades, which allowed greater discrimination between applicants' academic achievements.

The universities are backed by education secretary David Blunkett, who is concerned the new tariffs will devalue the achievements of the best A-level candidates. He wants discussions with interested parties on a sensible way forward.

The new tariff aims to make different qualifications directly comparable. For example, it awards 120 points to an A grade at A level, 120 points to an A grade at advanced GNVQ, 72 points to an A grade Scottish Higher and 60 points to an A grade at the new AS level.

Tony Higgins said: "Only about half the people applying to higher education through UCAS now have A levels, and until now there has been no way for admissions officers to compare different qualifications. The new tariff will provide a framework to help decide which students should be offered places."

The Scottish Qualifications Authority welcomed the new system because it means students from Scotland who apply to institutions in England, Wales or Northern Ireland can have their qualifications compared against other applications in a systematic way.

The new tariff is: A grade at A level, advanced Higher or six-unit advanced GNVQ, 120 points; B grades at these levels, 100 points; C grades at these levels, 80 points; A grade Higher, 72 points; D grades at A level or six-unit advanced GNVQ, or B grade Higher, 60 points; C grade Higher, 48 points; E grade at A level or six-unit advanced GNVQ, 40 points.

UCAS has been attacked for introducing a Pounds 10 charge for two publications explaining qualifications.

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