Sir Ron Dearing proposed a new framework of national awards this week. Alison Utley spells out the implications for higher education. A new system for recording university candidates' academic and vocational performance, underpinning Sir Ron Dearing's review of qualifications for 16-19-year olds, is proposed this week by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
UCAS said a new points-based tariff was needed to replace the current "arbitrary" A-level scoring which was now inadequate to deal with a mass education system. Malcolm Deere, leading the project for UCAS, said: "The Dearing report gives us the ability to accumulate credit from both academic and vocational frameworks. We have come up with proposed equivalences for the various qualifications although we are still wrestling with the fine detail. By the end of the century however we will not be able to get away with tinkering because we will need a powerful central record of achievement."
The new tariff will comprise a computer-driven two dimensional display of achievement at advanced level which will be "scored" using certain initial equivalences, namely that two A levels equate to a basic 12-unit advanced GNVQ.
Layers of information of increasing depth can be offered and in time a written version will give more details of skills outside the formal curriculum. This is designed to align with a revisited National Record of Achievement spelled out in the Dearing review.
Mr Deere said working out the equivalences of the different qualifications had been the most difficult part of his task which has been cautiously welcomed by higher education admissions experts.
Alan Howe of Nottingham University, where pilot studies using the new system are already underway, said: "This puts students from different backgrounds on an equal par and gives candidates an opportunity to demonstrate to assessors their other talents and experiences."
Ray Walker of Hull University was also enthusiastic although he expressed some doubt over whether the sector could ever make such a system work. "At the very least this forces universities to consider what kind of skills they need from people."
Adrian James of the University of Central Lancashire was more anxious about "false unrealistic comparisons" between different qualifications. "I am concerned that such a simplified, computerised system which would come out with an all embracing score would find it difficult to accommodate the subjective assessment."
The matrix has been designed to be sufficiently flexible to house any programme, any number of elements, any number of skills and to enable the identification of any award.
In the future UCAS envisages a central database containing all relevant pre-HE qualifications amounting to a central credit register. Universities will have identified the entry requirements relevant to each of their programmes and will bank these with the database. UCAS believes this is a major conceptual task and probably represents the biggest challenge.
Applicants would be able to interrogate sections of the central database to select programmes that they may wish to enter and since the applicant's own matrix and the institution's entry profile are in the same format it becomes possible for the system to carry out automatic matching of applicants and institutions.