Ucas poised for huge reform of university admissions

Ucas chief executive said the proposals “could work practically” and make the system fairer for disadvantaged students

Independent schools could have to get to grips with a revolutionary new university admissions process, as Ucas prepares to reveal “two radical new options” for reform.

The university and college admissions service will soon outline two options to replace the current system, which has drawn growing numbers of bipartisan detractors. One option under consideration would see students apply after receiving their final results; the other would see universities make offers after applicants receive their qualifications.

The two options, known as post-qualification admissions (PQA) and post-qualification offers (PQO) respectively, would mark a radical departure from the current system, which has been criticised by ministers and shadow ministers on both sides of the House of Commons.

The plans “would have far-reaching impact and better support students from disadvantaged backgrounds”, the Ucas statement promised.

There are two options for reform that could work practically and aim to improve fairness for students, as well as eradicate problems for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds that have become ingrained into the current admissions process
– Clare Marchant, Ucas 

If chosen, PQA would dictate that students submit university applications in the summer after receiving their A-level and BTEC results. To give universities time to process applications and offers, terms would need to begin in January.

PQO would also necessitate changes to university operations, but term times would be unaltered; students would submit applications in the winter preceding their final exams, but universities would not respond until exam boards confirm results in August.

Both systems would stop the controversial practice of ‘conditional unconditional’ offer-making, which has become a bête noire for successive Conservative education ministers. The PQA system would also remove the need for clearing. Clearing has become a more common route into higher education and this year placed more than 70,000 undergraduates.

Clare Marchant said the proposals “could work practically” and make the system fairer for disadvantaged students

 

Clare Marchant, Ucas chief executive, said: “Now is the time to take a serious look at reforming the admissions timetable, which we have been doing over the last few months with universities, colleges, students, and schools.

“There are two options for reform that could work practically and aim to improve fairness for students, as well as eradicate problems for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds that have become ingrained into the current admissions process.

“It is absolutely crucial though that we limit any unintended consequences of such major change. Ucas is ready to innovate and we look forward to sharing full details in the coming weeks and working with colleagues from across the education sector in the UK to develop these ideas further.”

Universities UK is set to next week reveal the findings of its own fair admissions review. The Office for Students is also overseeing a review of university admissions.

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10 March 2021, 11am GMT