Ucas ditches 'unworkable' post-results plan

Consultation reveals overwhelming rejection of proposed PQA system. Jack Grove reports

March 29, 2012

Plans for students to apply to higher education after receiving their exam results have been dropped after intense opposition from schools and universities.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service will not proceed with its proposals for post-qualifications applications after a consultation revealed the plans were hugely unpopular with its members - as first revealed by Times Higher Education earlier this month.

Plans to replace clearing with a more managed post-results applications window will be taken forward, ending the traditional last-minute scramble for places in August.

However, the overwhelming rejection of post-qualifications applications by schools and universities marks an important moment in a long-running battle for admissions reforms.

Nearly three-quarters of all higher education institutions felt the plans for post-qualifications applications put forward in October were unworkable, while just 19 per cent said they were viable.

Sixty-nine per cent of higher education institutions believed that students would be deterred from making "aspirational" choices by the proposed post-results system because they would be limited to two preferences.

Only 50 per cent felt a post-results system was "fairer" because students would be judged on their actual results, not predicted ones, while 44 per cent disagreed.

The report, published on 28 March, says many universities had expressed serious concerns about their ability to manage student numbers or attract the right students if the admissions process were concentrated over the summer.

"There was concern about the adverse effect on crucial research activity," it says.

Any savings from a simpler system of applications would be wiped out because admissions staff would need to be employed throughout the year, it adds.

"Respondents felt that applying with results would not necessarily support applicants aspiring to the most competitive courses and concerns were raised about potential negative impacts on widening participation and less well-supported applicants," the report continues.

Schools also argued that plans to cut short the summer term were inequitable, particularly for those students not entering higher education.

"There was a feeling that schools and colleges were expected to make more changes than the higher education sector and that this was unfair," the report says.

"There were strong indications from schools, colleges, awarding bodies, Ofqual [the qualifications regulator] and higher education institutions that the loss of three weeks' teaching time would be damaging to curriculum delivery, student achievement and standards."

The new plans for clearing should give a better experience to applicants, the report adds.

A pause after A-level results day to allow applicants to take stock "would help to secure the best match of applicant to course, rather than the current first-come first-served process."

"Respondents felt that it would remove the rush for places as there should be no benefit to applying earlier...This would reduce applicant anxiety and support them in making more considered choices."

jack.grove@tsleducation.com.

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