V-cs rebuff plan to delay term start for PQA

November 14, 2003

Universities have rejected government suggestions that they delay the start of the academic year to accommodate a new student admissions system.

Vice-chancellors are unhappy with government proposals, published this week, which suggest postponing the start of the university year to allow young people to apply to university after receiving their exam results - the so-called post-qualifications applications system (PQA).

The proposals, in a paper from the Department for Education and Skills, prompted the government to give its first official blessing to PQA.

Further and higher minister Alan Johnson said: "The top line is that a post-qualification admissions system is right in principle. It could help to widen participation and make university admissions clearer and fairer.

"But, the bottom line is that it needs to be agreed with key stakeholders, including the devolved administrations, as it can operate only on a UK-wide basis.

"The paper suggests that, within the current system, the most likely way to get PQA is to move the start date of the university term.

"But there are lots of practical issues with this and I would like to find a way to deliver PQA that requires the minimum of changes for universities across the UK."

While welcoming PQA in principle, Universities UK said a later start date would be unacceptable because it would leave students stranded for months without financial support.

UUK also voiced concerns about the impact on the international student market.

A spokeswoman said: "We welcome the minister's support for the universities' stated view that PQA will need more consideration and cross-UK support if it is to work in practice.

"UUK reiterates its support, in principle, for PQA. However, for PQA to be accepted by all education stakeholders it must be compatible with both the university and school year, and the timing of national examinations."

The change would not be made until 2008 at the earliest. The introduction of such a system could also be staggered, with some institutions starting their academic years later than others - a proposal that the government recognises risks leaving some students stranded.

* University admissions tutors have welcomed a call from the government's examinations adviser Mike Tomlinson for a move away from so-called tick- box tests in A levels and a return to longer essay-style questions, writes Tony Tysome.

Mr Tomlinson, head of a working group on 14-to-19 education that is considering the introduction of a baccalaureate-style diploma, said the move was needed in response to universities' concerns that newly admitted students lacked the ability to outline a clear argument in an extended piece of writing.

Cath Orange, chair of the Universities Admissions Practitioners' Group, agreed that multiple-choice and short answers were unhelpful but she added that it would be helpful if other skills, such as oral communication and debating, were tested in the diploma as well as essay-writing.

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