Universities would cease to use schools' predicted grades to select students within three years, under plans for a post-qualifications applications system drafted in Whitehall.
Under the proposals, leaked to The Times Higher , schools would no longer predict students' grades and the number of institutions to which students could apply would be cut from six to four by 2008. By 2010, students would submit expressions of interest in four institutions during a registration phase but would wait until after receiving their results before making a formal application.
The proposals were put together by a working group chaired by Sir Alan Wilson, director-general of higher education at the Department for Education and Skills.
Sir Alan said: "Everyone has signed up to the Schwartz report's fair access principles. One of those principles is that there should be some kind of post-qualifications applications system. Why now? It is possible that what can be done electronically will facilitate it in a way that five or ten years ago would not have been possible."
Previous attempts to introduce a PQA system floundered because schools and universities would not alter the academic calendar. Under the proposals, most dates would remain the same. But students would have more time to choose courses and results would be published ten days earlier.
Universities and colleges would also have to give more detailed feedback to rejected students.
The proposals, which were presented to interested parties last week, will be published for formal consultation in the summer.
HOW PQA WOULD WORK
* January 15: Students who hope to enter Oxford or Cambridge universities or to read medicine, dentistry or veterinary science/medicine submit four expressions of interest.
* March 31: All other students submit four expressions of interest.
Under option A, universities consider candidates and indicate their interest.
Under option B, universities make conditional offers. However, at least 15 per cent of places must be reserved for later applicants.
* August 1-7: Exam results published.
Under option A, students submit three applications in rank order.
Under option B, students who achieve the right grades have their offers confirmed. Students who achieve higher or lower grades can submit three new ranked applications.
* By the end of August: Under both options, universities then accept or reject. Students rejected by all three enter clearing.