New college entry system would end scramble for places

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Education Correspondent

Students could apply to university after they get their A-level results under proposals which will be discussed by vice-chancellors next month.

The 93,000 students who can enter this autumn's clearing process could be among the last to do so. A report is being prepared which could end the system by 1998. Vice-chancellors, who will debate the idea at their annual meeting in Belfast, believe all students could apply by computer in future.

Critics say the current system forces students to apply too far in advance and that there is often a scramble for places at the last minute. This year's official clearing listings are printed for the first time today in a supplement to the Independent.

A final decision on the reform is unlikely next month, but four options will be considered. Post-results applications will be among them, as will using computers to speed up the system. There are two compromise options: a "shadow" system under which students would apply in advance but would receive offers later and a two-stage process in which everyone went into clearing.

Under the post-A-level system students would receive their grades up to a week earlier and would then choose a course whose grade offers matched theirs. Rejected applications could be redirected by computer to their next choice.

Some vice-chancellors are sceptical, saying they must interview students in advance and that the technology is not available in all schools. They may ask the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service to study the changes.

Students and teachers welcomed the move. Jim Murphy, president of the National Union of Students, said: "We think it is ridiculous that people are forced to make decisions which will affect the rest of their lives in just two weeks." John Dunford, head of Durham Johnston secondary school, County Durham, and a member of the vice-chancellors' working group, said: "Schools greatly favour a post-A-level process."

This year's exercise appeared to be going smoothly last night. More than three-quarters of the 270,000 places had been allocated compared with just one-third at this time last year. The number of courses advertised in the Independent this year had gone up by 3,000 to 14,500, though, possibly because universities exercised caution this year in order to avoid overshooting their targets.