One of Britain's leading universities is to set its own entrance exam because it believes that grade inflation has "destroyed" A-levels as a way of distinguishing between candidates.
Imperial College London said it would introduce the exam for all subjects within two years. It added that if the scheme was successful it hoped to extend it to other universities, developing a national system for selecting students for science courses.
The move will make Imperial the first British university to use entrance tests across the board since Oxford scrapped its entrance exams in 1995.
Sir Richard Sykes, Imperial's rector, told the annual conference of the Independent Schools Council that it was no longer possible to rely on A-levels to distinguish between candidates when grade inflation meant that so many applicants were predicted four or five A-grades each.
"A lot of universities are thinking the same as us," Sir Richard said. "The top institutions have great difficulty separating out the best students."
The new exam will test intelligence and problem solving rather than require additional subject knowledge. Sir Richard said that candidates would still need to have studied A-levels or equivalent qualifications to demonstrate learning.
Andrew Adonis, the Schools minister, denied that grade inflation had devalued the A-level. "Independent evidence shows educational standards are being maintained," he said.
Imperial College was ranked as the joint third best university in the UK, with the London School of Economics, beaten only by Oxford and Cambridge, according to The Independent university league tables.
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