University and college offers could soon be based on actual grades, UCAS says

Admissions body says it will publish ‘radical new options’ to better support disadvantaged students

Joe Middleton
Monday 09 November 2020 15:31 GMT
A file photo showing university graduates
A file photo showing university graduates (PA)

University offers could soon be based on their actual grades rather than teachers' predictions, Ucas has announced.

The admissions body said it will publish two “radical new options” in the next few weeks that will better support disadvantaged students who are often under-predicted.

A post-qualification application (PQA) model - where students would apply to university after receiving their A-level grades and then they would start their courses in January - is one of the proposals being considered.

The other option is that students would apply in the usual way, but they would receive offers from universities only after they receive their results in August.

In the summer thousands of A-Level students received grades downgraded by an algorithm prompting a swift U-turn by Ofqual, allowing students to use teacher predicted grades. 

Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, said: "Now is the time to take a serious look at reforming the admissions timetable, which we have been doing over the last few months with universities, colleges, students, and schools. 

"There are two options for reform that could work practically and aim to improve fairness for students, as well as eradicate problems for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds that have become ingrained into the current admissions process.

“It is absolutely crucial though that we limit any unintended consequences of such major change. UCAS is ready to innovate and we look forward to sharing full details in the coming weeks, and working with colleagues from across the education sector in the UK to develop these ideas further.”

Last month, a Sutton Trust survey found the majority of young people who applied to university this year thought it would be fairer for students to only submit an application once they had received their final grades.

Working-class applicants were more likely to say they would have applied to a more selective university if they had known their A-level grades, it found.

John Cope, Ucas' director of strategy, policy, and public affairs, said: "What happened on results day this year means concerns around predicted grades need to be addressed.

"Access to impartial, high-quality information, advice, and personalised support during the months when students are considering their options is essential to level up opportunity, which is why consideration must be given to reforming admissions, so life-changing decisions are made on the certainty of actual exam results, not predictions."

Universities UK (UUK), an organisation which represents vice-chancellors, will publish its own findings of a review into fair admissions in the next few weeks.

The review will make recommendations on best practice in offer making and it will propose changes to ensure the admissions system works in the best interests of applicants.

A UUK spokesman said: "Working with school and college leaders, this will set out the university sector's views on how we can achieve greater transparency, trust and confidence in the admissions system.

"It is premature to look at the PQA issue in isolation from the review's wider recommendations."

A Department for Education (DfE) spokeswoman said: "We remain committed to delivering on our manifesto pledge to improve the admissions system.

"We are exploring options that will ensure it is as fair and transparent as possible, and works for every student."

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