University Admission Process Under Assessment

The higher education watchdog has launched a review that sets out options for a large and radical overhaul of University admissions in England.  

The Office for Students has suggested an entry system that scraps the use of predicted A-Level grades. This comes after their three-month review of how universities allocate places to prospective students followed concerns about the fairness of using personal statements, references and exam grades. 

Statistics from the Watchdog showed that pupils did not make the grades predicted by their schools in 75% of cases. They also highlighted the discrepancy between the grades that the universities advertise, and the often much lower grades that are actually needed to gain a place. 

There have also been warnings that personal statements can be favored towards those who have the most support from teaching staff or parents. Speaking of this, Sir Michael Barber, chairman of the Watchdog, said that:

“it may be especially unfair on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.” 

There have been three options for reform laid out by the Watchdog:

  1. Universities would not make pupils an offer until they have received their A-level results. Applications, however, could be made in advance as is the case now. 
  2. Applications would not be made until students had received their A-Level results. Universities could have been visited and interest registered, but students would not make a final choice on applying until they knew their exam grades.
  3. Keep the current timetable relatively unchanged, but take more account of the disadvantages that some pupils face, reconsider the use of personal statements and have more transparency over required grades.

Should offers be made once A-Level results are known, some timetabling changes would have to be made whereby either A-Levels would be taken earlier, results published earlier, or university terms starting later. 

It would also mean that unconditional offers would no longer be needed. 

Leader of the UCU lecturers’ union,  Jo Grady, said there was:

“growing support for a shift to a fairer admissions system, where students apply to university after they have received their results. This review is the opportunity for us to finally move to a system where university offers are based on actual achievement rather than unreliable estimates of potential.”

The Higher Education Policy Institute has suggested a different approach to creating a more open access to university.

They believe that anyone who is in the first generation of their family to go to university should not pay tuition fees in their first year. The aim of this is to remove financial barriers for disadvantage, as the Government will pick up the cost. 

As universities are independent bodies, change cannot be imposed upon them. However, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said that it is vital the admission process was “transparent and work in students’ best interests.” 

The watchdog will publish its findings when the admissions review comes to an end in May.