Entry to university 'after the results'

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The Independent Online
Controversial plans under which students would wait until they knew their A- level results before applying to a university are winning support from schools, examinations officials and some universities.

An inquiry into the future of the university year has agreed to consider the scheme, which would mean students starting courses in November instead of September or October.

But while several of the new universities have backed them, many of the more traditional institutions are against. Instead they want to move the beginning of the academic year forward to early September. A committee of university vice- chancellors and administrators headed by Lord Flowers is looking at ways to reorganise semesters to allow students to move between institutions, or to take time out.

Most institutions favour a move from the traditional three-term year to two 15-week semesters, leaving almost a third of the year free for extra teaching or research.

Divisions have arisen, however, over when the academic year should start. Most of the old universities back the September model, which would leave time for the first semester to end at Christmas and the second in May.

But a growing alliance is now pressing for more radical change. Delaying entrance until November would lessen the trauma suffered by students who fail to meet their entrance grades. The later start date would also allow candidates to apply once they know how well they had done.

The idea, proposed by Leslie Wagner, vice-chancellor of the University of North London, has won support from all the main head teachers' groups and from examinations officials. Under this option, Christmas would be the first semester mid-term break and Easter the second's.

The new combined clearing house, UCAS, which comes into full operation in October, has told the committee that university applications should be based on results rather than on teachers' estimates.

Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS, said that almost two-thirds of teachers predicted grades wrongly.

Mr Higgins said: 'The application process should be based on information rather than on speculation. In the current scramble for places some students may hit the jackpot but many will not.'

Russell Clarke, assistant general secretary of the Secondary Heads' Association, said the November option would make the job of the schools much easier.

He added: 'University should be an eagerly anticipated continuation of education. It seems to us that there must be a better way of handling it than this traumatic month prior to going away.'

The September option would make the clearing process more hectic, even if the A- level results were brought forward slightly. However, it is possible that under this scheme, first-year students would start a few weeks later than second and third years.

Professor Peter Butterworth, of the University of Surrey, said that a remarkably strong consensus had been reached within higher education on the issue.

'The vast majority of universities would prefer a September start. If pressure were put on the examining system it could be brought forward by at least a couple of weeks.'

The committee is expected to present its report to the Secretary of State for Education, John Patten, this autumn, and the changes it proposes could be in place by 1996.