Higher Education: They all want my son's pot of money: George Low describes a typical foray into the rat race that passes for a university recruitment system

My youngest son received two cards last week to wish him well with his A-levels. One was from his grandmother, who never misses such occasions. The other was from Coventry University, looking forward to seeing him there as a design technology student in October.

The first was half-expected but welcome; the second a pleasant surprise, for Coventry was not his first choice on the UCAS form.

A few weeks earlier he had received a phone call, just after 10pm, from Derby University. 'We were impressed by your UCAS form,' said the stranger. 'We would like to offer you a place. Can you come and see us on Thursday next week to meet us and look round?'

When he hesitated and pleaded his revision timetable, another date was offered at once. 'Come whenever you can - we would be delighted to see you. Just book an appointment.'

The two incidents highlight the persuasive techniques being used by the new universities. In some subject areas, such as design technology and engineering, they are still short of customers and have resorted to telesales and mail-order techniques to reach the punters.

'They don't necessarily want your mind or your body,' I advised my youngest hopeful. 'They are after the big pot of money that your enrolment will bring.' Nevertheless, I had to admit that the customer-friendly letters and personalised correspondence were a welcome change from the 'take it or leave it' attitude of the older universities with their high-grade A-level stakes.

Some of these new 'old' universities treat further education college students like Scottish pound notes - probably negotiable, but they're not going to take the chance. Many of their admissions tutors clearly do not regard subjects such as environmental sciences or design technology as proper A-levels at all.

There appears to be a class of 'non-academic' A-levels (such as history of art, sociology or classical civilisation) that are poorly regarded by the old universities. This lack of esteem is probably the fault of the independent schools, which put less able sixth-formers in for these subjects to avoid lowering their UCAS point score averages in the more prestigious A-levels, such as history, physics and geography.

After considering a wide range of tantalising offers and wading through a mass of 'good university guides', my son has picked the courses he wants. His final interview was at Sheffield Hallam University, and he was made an unconditional offer within days. 'Just finish your course,' his admissions tutor said. 'No A-level grades required.' It was a relief for both of us, because the calls for distant interviews were putting a strain on the family budget and cutting down on his revision time.

Having been on the consumer end of the higher education rat race for the past 10 years, I am glad the end is in sight. The nonsensical regime of conditional offers based on A-level point scores is breaking down, and the efforts of the new universities to undermine it are welcome. 'If you don't get your grades, get in touch with us anyway and we will see what we can do' is the attitude of most new universities.

Jeff Rooker's Bill to change the dates of A-level results and base admissions on actual, rather than hypothetical, grades would ease the pressure on parents and students. The present lottery boosts the vanity of some headteachers and impresses some vice-chancellors who see average point scores of 28 plus as an index of excellence. But for average parents and students such batting averages are meaningless. There must be a better way of matching students to courses, without ruining everybody's summer holidays.

Roll on the day when students can sort their places out by Easter and spend the next six months earning some money. The way things are going they are likely to need ready cash more than A-level grades as a passport to higher education. But preferably the system should be based on motivation and ability, rather than luck or money.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
News
Danczuk has claimed he is a 'man of the world'
news
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Imperial College London: Safety Training Administrator

£25,880 – £28,610 per annum: Imperial College London: Imperial College London ...

University College London: Client Platform Support Officer

£26,976 - £31,614 per annum: University College London: UCL Information Servic...

Guru Careers: Instructional Designer / e-Learning Designer

£30 - 32k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking an Instructional / e-Learning De...

Recruitment Genius: Schools Education & Careers Executive

£30500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Schools Education & Careers Executive ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor