Vice-chancellors have rejected Government plans for a radical overhaul of the university admissions system, saying it would be “unworkable, unmanageable and unacceptable”.
Pushing back the start of the academic year so that students can apply to university following A-level results day should be “ruled out” as an option, according to Universities UK (UUK).
Their intervention comes as ministers draw up plans to bring in a “post-qualifications” admissions system, which could see students apply to university and receive offers after receiving their A-level grades.
The Government is proposing two main options for reform. The first and more radical change would be to a “post-qualifications applications” model which would potentially involve moving A-levels to earlier in the year and delaying the start of the university year to either November or January. Under this system, students would both make applications and receive offers after results day.
The second option is the “post-qualifications offer” approach where students apply to university prior to receiving their A-level grades, as is the case now, but offers are not handed out until after results day.
On Thursday vice-Chancellors firmly rejected the first model, saying it would be worse than the current system. University leaders told ministers that it would be “unworkable”, adding: “UUK firmly believes it would represent an unmanageable overhaul to secondary education timetabling, exam sitting and exam marking, and possibly result in later starts for higher education courses.”
They said that the six-week time frame between A-level results day and university term starting would be an “unacceptably small window for universities and students to undertake fundamental components of the admissions process”.
In their response to the Department for Education’s (DfE) consultation, UUK said that the second model was “preferable” to the first but still requires some “fundamental adjustments” in order to work.
If this option was pursued, admissions tutors would still need to be given information about students’ academic record ahead of results day so they can schedule interviews in advance, they said.
Universities should also be allowed to reject students ahead of results day, if they felt it was in their best interest. Meanwhile, headteachers backed plans to reform the admissions system, saying university offers have “become something of a pantomime” in recent years.
The Association of School and College Leaders said that under the current system, some universities insist that students get high A-level results but in reality accept them with far lower grades which makes it difficult for students and teachers to know what is actually required.
Officials at the DfE believe that moving to a post-qualifications application model would benefit disadvantaged students and those from black and minority ethnic groups, as research shows they tend to receive lower predicted A-level grades than they go on to achieve.
It would remove the problem of institutions handing out unconditional offers which can lead to students slacking with their school work since they have a university place guaranteed.
Moving to a post-qualifications application model would also solve the issue of unreliable predicted grades, where universities complain that teachers make unrealistic forecasts about what students are capable of achieving.
Prof Quintin McKellar, vice-Chancellor of Hertfordshire University chair of UUK’s fair admissions review, said: “We believe the government is heading in the right direction in its consultation, but we need to get the detail right so we can truly improve fairness and transparency for students.
“Everyone involved in the education system – teachers, students, universities, colleges, and schools – should work together with the UK government to carefully take forward admissions reform.”