Leading article: A lack of vision on university admissions

The latest 'do nothing' decision from Ucas leaves serious criticisms unaddressed

Share
Related Topics

A system allowing students to apply to university when they know their A-level results, rather than on the basis of the grades they are predicted would be clearer, fairer and more efficient. Why, then, has the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas) now unceremoniously dumped the reforms?

Universities and teaching unions which oppose such a change marshal a formidable array of arguments. To begin with, they claim, post-exam applications would throw too much emphasis on grades alone and give colleges less time to make a more rounded assessment of candidates' qualities. Students' education might also suffer, because bringing exams forward would reduce teaching time and the spur to study harder created by conditional offers would be removed. Furthermore, by shortening the time between A-level results and universities' decision deadlines, students who perform either better, or worse, than expected may be forced into rushed decisions.

Meanwhile, students whose papers went in for re-marking would be disadvantaged, schemes to help poorer children into university might be compromised, and universities might be left with little idea of student numbers for courses due to start imminently. Then there is the insurmountable difficulty of reconciling English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish school timetables.

Quite a catalogue. But Ucas's "do nothing" decision is no more satisfactory, leaving unaddressed many serious criticisms of an existing system which the admissions organisation itself has described as complex, cumbersome and lacking in transparency.

Ucas has made some concessions to critics, promising improved online access for applicants who do want access to its system after receiving their A-level results. But it has utterly failed to address the deficiencies of a system that relies on predictions when only 52 per cent of grades are forecast correctly and only a woeful tenth of students have all three of their results predicted accurately.

Not only are young people forced to make decisions about higher education too early in their A-level courses, before they have sufficient knowledge of their subjects. They would also be better off concentrating on the consuming task of writing their application forms in the time between finishing exams and getting the results.

As things are, the system is skewed towards pupils at private schools, where teachers are likely to have more experience with the application process and to know to apply to institutions way ahead of the official deadline because some courses' acceptance rates are higher for earlier applicants. Worse still, under-privileged children may opt for less-prestigious universities because they do not feel that they will achieve their predicted grades – and when they do achieve top marks, it may be too late for them to reapply.

It need hardly be said that the merits of any reforms to the university admissions procedure must outweigh any negative consequences. But the existing system is grossly inadequate, and leaving it untouched should not be an option. Rather than ducking the issue, it is incumbent upon Ucas to come up with ways to smooth the transition.

There is plenty of scope for imaginative thinking. One option might be to bring A-level examinations forward, to allow sufficient time for the process to take place afterwards. Any remainder of the school year might be spent on formal work experience programmes. Another possibility is to consider beginning the university year in January rather than October. More than anything, Ucas's blanket rejection of reform suggests a preoccupation with administrative convenience rather than the best interests of students.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Development Manager (District Heating)

£55000 Per Annum plus company car and bonus scheme: The Green Recruitment Comp...

Lead Hand - QC

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Lead Hand - QCProgressive are recruiting...

Chemical Engineer/Project Coordinator

£40000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Chemical Eng...

Sustainability Manager

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: Job Title: Scheme Manager (BREEAM)...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: knitting, why Ed wants to be PM and a colloquium of Indy-pedants

John Rentoul
Former N-Dubz singer Tulisa Contostavlos gives a statement outside Southwark Crown Court after her trial  

It would be wrong to compare brave Tulisa’s ordeal with phone hacking. It’s much worse than that

Matthew Norman
Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn