University entry system attacked

David Willetts today hit out at the university entry system for awarding points to "pony care" and music courses, but not to apprenticeships.

The Universities Minister said he wants to see apprenticeships - particularly those that are equivalent to A-levels - recognised to make it easier for youngsters who take up the courses to go on to higher education.

Answering questions at a skills conference in central London today, Mr Willetts said: "Ucas is doing a review of the tariff points system.

"There are tariff points for getting a music diploma, a violin diploma, and that's fine. There are points even for things like pony care."

But getting points for apprenticeships has "always been a bit of a challenge," he said.

"We want to see apprenticeships, particularly level 3, getting the tariff points they deserve so that they, in time, if someone wishes it, become even more valuable for a route into university."

Mr Willetts later added that some apprentices may well go on to do university courses in the future.

Under the current system, which is under review, academic and vocational qualifications and grades are awarded "tariff points" by Ucas.

These points are used by universities when making offers to would-be students for degree places.

According to the Ucas website, a pass in a British Horse Society stage 3 qualification in horse knowledge and care is worth 35 tariff points.

There are also points for grades six to eight in music exams, ranging from five points for a pass in a grade 6 theory exam to 75 points for gaining a distinction in a grade 8 practical exam.

An A* grade at A-level is worth 140 points, while an E grade is worth 40 points.

Ministers are believed to be looking at the issue of apprenticeships and university in a bid to allow more youngsters to carry on their vocational education to a higher level if they want to.

The Government's social mobility strategy, published last month, says it is working closely with Ucas to ensure that apprenticeships and vocational qualifications are properly considered as part of the tariff review.

Ucas announced its review last summer, saying university applicants now have access to a wider range of qualifications that are not all recognised by the current tariff.

Ucas said that when the system was introduced a decade ago, A-levels were the main entry qualification for higher education - now around half of UK applicants to universities apply with other qualifications.

Mr Willetts said after the conference that it may be that apprentices want to take degree courses in the future and that it was right that their qualifications so far were recognised, if they are rigorous.

"Certainly one of the things that's going to happen is more routes into university at different ages," he said.

A Ucas spokesman said: "Ucas is currently undertaking a Qualification and Information Review (QIR) which will take into consideration the Ucas tariff and whether it has kept pace with the changing qualifications landscape.

"The review has been established to understand what requirements learners, institutions and other stakeholders have for information about qualifications to enable fair and efficient admissions to higher education. This will look at what information is needed about all qualifications, including apprenticeships.

"The first stage of the review is a series of research activities, designed to establish what information needs applicants, higher education institutions and others have for qualifications. Ucas expects to publish initial findings in autumn 2011."

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