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

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Year 6 Teacher (interventions)

£120 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: We have an exciting opportunity...

PMLD Teacher

Competitive: Randstad Education Manchester: SEN Teacher urgently required for ...

Real Estate Solicitor 2+PQE - City

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGH VALUE REAL ESTATE / RESID...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A couple calculates their costs with the help of some paperwork  

It’s the dream of escape that makes couples keep their finances secret from each other

John Walsh
Theresa May  

It's not hard to imagine Prime Minister Theresa May standing on the steps of Downing Street

Jane Merrick
Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

The children orphaned by Ebola...

... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

Are censors pandering to homophobia?

US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
The magic of roundabouts

Lords of the rings

Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
Why do we like making lists?

Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

Paris Fashion Week

Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
10 best children's nightwear

10 best children's nightwear

Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

Manchester City vs Roma

Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

Trouble on the Tyne

Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?