Cambridge University announced a review of its admissions procedures today in the wake of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s A-level reforms.
Admissions tutors will consider whether to introduce pre-interview tests for all applicants or tests to be sat by candidates at the same time they attend interview.
The university’s decision to review admissions is likely to be followed by many others - who believe they will lack information about the ability of students in the wake of the decision to scrap AS levels in their present form.
Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of Universities UK - the body which represents all UK vice-chancellors, said: “The proposals that AS levels no longer contribute to the A-level will cause difficulties.
“For some universities, this will be a significant change as they use AS-levels as part of the evidence in their decision making.
“This could mean that they will now need to place more emphasis on other evidence.”
In Cambridge’s case, it is worried that the Government’s proposals - which would see AS-levels as a standalone exam in their right unlikely to be taken in subjects students are likely to pursue at university (as at present) - will leave them with no information about candidates’ achievements in the sixth-form. At present, AS-level results are a key factor in determining who they accept or reject.
Mike Sewell, director of admissions for all the Cambridge colleges, said: “We feel there is a benefit to having an end of year exam which is an indication of a student’s ability that comes very close to when they apply to UCAS for a university place.
“At present between 15 and 20 per cent of applications are declined prior to interview - and AS level results play a large part in those decisions.
“We have to consider whether we should instead have pre-interview testing or testing at the time of the interview. All of these things we need to look at very carefully.”
Mr Sewell added that - under the present proposed timetable - the university would have to have a new admissions system up and operating in time for students who intend to start on university courses in September 2017.
At present, most sixth-formers take four subjects at AS-level - and then drop their weakest suite as they progress to A-levels in the other three.
Ms Dandridge said that other universities may go back to placing more reliance on schools’ predictions of their pupils’ result - although research has shown that these can be unreliable.
Another factor likely to prompt universities to review admission procedures is the decision to allow them to recruit as many students as they want - provided they have at least an A and two B’s at A-level from this September.
University sources said this meant they would need more reliable information about students’ achievements - not less. This could lead to some copying Cambridge and going down the route of setting more tests.
Mr Gove has said that he wants to replace the present system - with one which is more rigorous and requires more “deep thought” and relies on end of second-year examinations rather than modules taken over the tw0-year period.