Vice-chancellors this week welcomed the suggestion that a post-qualification admissions system - in which students apply for university after receiving their exam results - could work if the academic year started in late October.
Previous attempts to introduce PQA have foundered after indecision about whether the school year or the university year should move. It now appears that both will change.
Launching the final report about A-level standards, head of the inquiry Mike Tomlinson said: "I want a serious look taken at a post-qualification admissions process. There must be careful consideration. At present, a six-term year is being considered by schools and semesters by universities. Both of these developments, if implemented, could help."
Education secretary Charles Clarke said: "Together with the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, university interests, colleges and schools, we will explore the practicality of moving to such a system."
Leslie Wagner, vice-chancellor of Leeds Metropolitan University, chairs the Universities UK working group on PQA and was a member of the Tomlinson reference board. He said: "Both sides need to be more flexible and it would work."
Mike Goldstein, vice-chancellor of Coventry University and a former chairman of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said: "For universities with semesters, the first semester would have to be split over the Christmas period but we could get away with it. I have been a strong advocate of PQA for years."
John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said:
"We have had a push towards PQA from the education select committee, Dearing and now Tomlinson, and I hope very much that the vice-chancellors'
working party will start its work again to devise a system."
Last month, it was announced that schools in Derbyshire would move to a six-term year from September 2004, while a public consultation in Kent showed that there was 75 per cent support for the switch.
• Further education lecturers will be targeted to become A-level markers, Ken Boston, chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said this week.
Education secretary Charles Clarke has set aside up to £6 million to ensure that an extra 50,000 markers can be recruited for the 2003 A-level exams.
Lecturers would spend five or six days working from 9am to 8pm marking sections of A-level scripts in the colleges, with moderators working alongside them.