The UK is on course to have a centralised postgraduate admissions system by 2008, a conference on postgraduate education will hear next week, writes Claire Sanders.
Anthony McClaran, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said that a fully centralised system for all taught postgraduate courses, not PhDs, could be up and running by 2008.
About 80 universities have indicated to Ucas that they would like to be part of such a system. This would allow easy application to taught masters courses - the fastest growing sector in higher education.
"Ucas plans to pilot a system in 2007 and bring in a fully centralised admissions service the following year," Mr McClaran said.
"Universities spend a significant amount of resources on the kind of data processing that could be done by Ucas. They also have no way of knowing whether students will turn up. A centralised system would flag up whether students have accepted places at more than one university."
The new system would be based online - although there would still be provision for paper-based applications for those without access to the internet. Currently, 98.5 per cent of all applications to the undergraduate system are made online, including those from overseas.
The idea has been in genesis since 2003, when a group of Scottish institutions contacted Ucas to discuss the feasibility of a centralised system.
Ucas commissioned Michael Brown, vice-chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University, to research the idea. Professor Brown reported last year and Ucas has drawn up a specification.
"A centralised system would allow huge amounts of management information to get back into the system," said Mr McClaran. "We would offer universities easy access to conversion rates, comparisons with similar institutions and national data."
Ucas also has a sophisticated verification system for undergraduate applications to prevent fraud.
"Universities are very interested in using this system for postgraduate admissions," said Mr McClaran. "We are developing electronic ways of transmitting certificates to further this."
Ucas is working with Graduate Prospects to compile a list of postgraduate courses.
As with the undergraduate system, students would not have to tell universities where else they had applied, but once they had accepted a place that information would be centralised.