Ucas tariff system 'set to be axed'


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The Independent Online

The points-based system used by students applying to higher education is now likely to be scrapped after the move gained widespread support from universities and schools.

Around two-thirds are in favour of proposals to axe the Ucas "tariff system", according to a report by the admissions service.

Instead, universities will ask would-be students for specific qualifications and grades when offering places on degree courses.

Proposals to overhaul the tariff system, which would mean a major revamp of university applications, were put forward for consultation by Ucas earlier this year.

The findings of the consultation, published this month, have shown backing for the plans.

Ucas had recommended that universities consider the "gradual withdrawal" of the tariff system and replace it with the "greater use of qualifications and grades".

The move would give students a clearer indication about how the qualifications, such as A-levels, that they choose to take will be relevant to different degree courses at different institutions, it said.

In total, 63.5% of all of those who responded to the Ucas consultation were in favour of the plan in principle, the latest document shows. Universities, schools, awarding bodies and government, regulatory and funding bodies all submitted replies.

About 16.1% of respondents were against the proposal.

It also reveals that among universities alone, more than two-thirds were in favour of moving away from the tariff system. Many of these institutions already make grade and qualification-based offers, it found.

Ucas's report concludes: "It was widely felt that qualification and grade-based entry requirements and offers are clearer and more transparent for learners and offer those higher education providers who actively select applicants for their courses greater control over admissions."

But there were also fears that scrapping the tariff system could narrow students' choices at A-level standard and lead to schools focusing on exams that will win students places.

This could mean putting academic qualifications over vocational ones.

The report says that a number of those replying to the consultation raised concerns that qualification and grade-based offers "could lead to a narrowing of the pre-university curriculum, as schools and colleges prioritised the delivery of those qualifications and subjects that most commonly featured in higher education requirements, and moved away from qualifications that were less explicit within these requirements, eg additional subjects and qualifications for enrichment (which may also have been valued previously as a source of additional tariff points)".

Under the current tariff system, designed more than a decade ago, A-levels and other courses are each given a points score. Universities then use these points to make offers to students.

But concerns have been growing for some time that university applicants now have a wider range of qualifications than ever before which are not all recognised by the current tariff.

It has also been suggested that the tariff system does not show how a particular qualification could be more appropriate for some degree courses than others.

The system was originally designed at a time when A-levels were the main entry standard for university but now it is thought that around half of UK students apply with other qualifications.

Ucas will take a final decision on whether to abolish the tariff system in the autumn, the report says.

Malcolm Trobe, deputy general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said: "In the long run, this is probably a fair enough way forward.

"The way the tariff operates is it tries to provide an equivalent between a wide range of qualifications in terms of points."

But with so many qualifications available, the system has become difficult to operate, he said.

Mr Trobe said that introducing a new system in which offers are made based on specific qualifications and grades will mean that some universities will have to learn more about the types of courses students are taking.

He added: "It will be a lot clearer to youngsters and also mature students about what they need to enter to university."

Mr Trobe said that it is "absolutely critical" that students get the information, advice and guidance that they need to make decisions about qualifications and their futures.

A Ucas spokesman said: "One of the key aims of the Ucas qualifications information review was to review how effective the tariff and other approaches are in meeting the needs of learners, institutions and other stakeholders to enable fair, transparent and efficient admissions to higher education.

"The report that we recently published contains the findings and recommendations from the consultation period earlier in the year.

"There is widespread support for clear qualification and grade-based entry requirements and offers for applicants, though no decision has been made yet on the future of the Ucas tariff.

"The Ucas board will make a decision on the tariff in September and we continue to work with institutions to understand how the recommendations we have put forward would impact them in the future."

Indications that the tariff system is set to be axed comes as students across the country anxiously wait for their A-level results and confirmation of university places for this autumn.

Those heading to university in September will be the first to pay tuition fees of up to £9,000.

The move also comes just months after proposals to allow students to apply for degree courses after getting their A-level results were ditched.

Ucas said there were "insurmountable difficulties" with a post-results system because of differing term times and exam dates throughout the UK.

Instead, the admissions service plans to make changes to the clearing system, the annual process which matches students without places to courses that still have vacancies.