Ucas chief plans post-result result

Reform of application system 'would ease an overloaded system'. Rebecca Attwood reports

December 9, 2010

The head of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service is to take on one of the sector's longest-running logistical challenges by trying to switch to a post-qualification application system.

At a conference in London, Mary Curnock Cook, who joined Ucas as chief executive a year ago, said the issue had gone "out of fashion" but that she intended to revive it.

Such a shift would be "probably the biggest single reform we could do in the qualifications arena", she told the Westminster Education Forum event last week.

Arguing that the university application system had become "overloaded", she said students needed to be able to apply "with real, actual grades in their pocket", putting an end to the "statistics game" currently played by admissions officers.

Ms Curnock Cook said post-qualification applications had been "put in the 'too difficult to handle' box for a very long time" and would continue to face resistance. However, she was "hopeful" that introducing such a system was possible.

"I can't believe that in the next five years we cannot speed up the marking of exams," she said, adding that the "post-Browne world" would be radically different, so it would not be a case of "shovelling" the change into the current system.

Ms Curnock Cook's comments came as the authors of a five-year study write that variations in the reliability of students' predicted grades at A level might make a post-qualification application system "more equitable".

Researchers from the National Foundation for Educational Research examined the GCSE, A-level and degree outcomes of 2,700 students who also sat a US-style SAT exam.

They found that A levels are the best predictor of degree class and that SAT tests do not help to identify potential among disadvantaged pupils, nor distinguish between applicants achieving straight As at A level.

The authors of the report, Use of an Aptitude Test in University Entrance: A Validity Study, say that the results suggest that universities should look again at admission tests to ensure they are valid predictors of undergraduate achievement.

In addition, the study shows that students from comprehensive schools are likely to gain higher-class degrees at university than those from independent or grammar schools with similar A levels, a finding that backs up previous studies.

Students attending highly selective universities are also less likely to achieve a high class of degree than their peers at less selective universities with similarly good grades.

The data suggest that it is more difficult to obtain a first-class honours degree in a highly selective university, the researchers say.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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