Student admissions revolution planned

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The Independent Online
A REVOLUTION in the way students apply for universities has been proposed by a working group of teachers and academics. Students would apply electronically after they had taken A-levels, instead of being offered places on the basis of grades predicted by teachers.

Such a system has been discussed for years but never put out to consultation before. Previous attempts to introduce change foundered on the reluctance of universities to alter terms and the insistence of exam boards that the dates for schools exam results could not be brought forward.

At present, A-level results come out in the third week of August. Under proposals devised by the working party, applicants would express a preference for courses and universities during the previous two terms. They would go to open days and might be interviewed. Exam results would be published about 10 days earlier in August. Students would have a week in which to apply to university and would list their preferences in order. They would be able to make three applications. Universities would in turn rank students in order.

The exercise would be made possible by electronic matching of applicants' choices to university places by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service. Students would then have to wait at least 10 days to hear if they had succeeded.

Critics of the existing system say students have difficulty choosing the right course and institution because they pick a list of six universities in December, nine months before they want to go to college.

Some do not achieve the expected grades and about 50,000 people enter the clearing process run by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which matches students to spare places at the end of August and in September. Equally, some students do better than they expected.

A National Union of Students spokesman said: "The new system would give proper information to students, who could make informed decisions. We hope it will go some way to end the lottery of clearing and should be easier to administer and leave all concerned a lot less paperwork."

Brian Smith, chairman of the working group and vice-chancellor of the University of Wales, said: "While the current system has some faults, it has proved to be generally reliable. We need to be sure any new system will be a real improvement and will not present serious practical difficulties in its implementation. Once we have feedback from admissions officers and others we will consider the system further."

Heads are eager for change. John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "We have been fighting hard to press the case for post-qualification entry to get away from the dependency on predicted grades and the long period between application and admission. I had hoped that the working party would lead to a full consultation of schools and universities rather than the present limited exercise."

The consultation will involve focus groups of admissions officers and schools.

Lord Dearing backed a post- qualification admissions system in his report on higher education and expected that the new arrangements would begin within two years.