Move to overhaul university admissions

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The Independent Online
PROPOSALS for radical changes in the university admissions system, the first for more than 30 years, are published today.

The most startling suggestion made in the discussion paper by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is that some students could be selected by lot, if too many people are chasing places. Other suggestions include a four-term school year, higher education courses starting at different times of the year, or a January start for most courses.

The university entry system is creaking. Designed in the 1960s, when there were only 100,000 applicants, it now has to cope with more than four times that number.

The paper acknowledges that students have to make choices too early, and offers of places depend on predictions, that are usually inaccurate, of how they might perform at A-level. The clearing system, which is the last chance to gain a place, is 'almost anarchic'.

Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS and co-author of the paper, said yesterday: 'We are facing a radical overhaul of the method of getting into university or college and perhaps some courageous decisions will need to be taken.'

Many universities say they would like to restructure their year, moving from three terms of 10 weeks to two of 15. But this would mean starting the academic year on 5 September, instead of October. Because A-level results are not published until the middle of August, universities would not have time to handle applications.

The paper suggests two other systems. With the first, applicants could get 'points' for A-level results, performance at interview, other qualifications, and records of achievement. When A-level results came out, a computer would compare each applicant's points total with the score that universities had set as the minimum to qualify for particular courses.

Controversially, the paper says: 'In a situation where more applicants satisfy the required points score than there are places available and there is a tie among a group of applicants . . . for the last number of places available, allocations would be made by lot.'

Under the second suggestion, applications would be made after A-level results are known. If university courses began in early September, A-level exams would have to be earlier - 'perhaps in the context of a four-term school year'. Alternatively, universities could begin courses in January.

Last straw for the lottery, page 14

Leading article, page 13