The Education secretary has revealed plans to change the university admissions system, so that applicants are offered places based on their actual exam results rather than predicted grades.
Gavin Williamson said the overhaul is being considered to “remove the unfairness” of inaccurate predicted grades which he says damages the opportunities of high achievers from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Under the current system, applicants apply to universities before January using grades predicted by their teachers and accept any offers they have received in June. In August, results are released and applicants who failed to meet the terms of their offer enter clearing to find another course.
The proposals, however, would give students longer to make their university choices and offers would only be made once the university has received an applicant’s grades in August. Universities would have a one-week window before “offer day”, and students a one-week window afterwards to respond, followed by a clearing process for applicants without a place.
UCAS data for 2019 shows 79% of 18-year-olds in the UK accepted to university with at least 3 A levels had their grades over-predicted, whereas 8% were under-predicted.
High achieving students from low-income households are most likely to have their grades under-predicted, with research from UCL’s Institute of Education showing almost a quarter of that group had their results underpredicted between 2013 and 2015.
In a statement, the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said:
“We should celebrate the fact that we are seeing record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university, but the current admissions system is letting down the brightest pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. By using predicted grades it is limiting the aspirations of students before they know what they can achieve.
We need to radically change a system which breeds low aspiration and unfairness. That is why we are exploring how best to transform the admission process to one which can propel young people into the most promising opportunities for them within higher education.”
The government is also looking into banning the use of unconditional offers, which the Department for Education described as a “damaging practice” that encourages applicants to accept a place at a university which might not be in their best interest.
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “The current system is based on inaccurately predicted results and leads to those from less affluent backgrounds losing out. Allowing students to apply after they receive their results will help level the playing field and put a stop to the chaotic clearing scramble.”
The Sutton Trust commissioned a poll last month which found that two-thirds of this year’s university entrants are in favour of removing predicted grades from university admissions. Applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds said they would have been more likely to have applied to more selective universities if they had known their final results.
Josh Bate, 18, an International Relations student, said he thought the change would make the application process fairer. “It’s a good thing because universities won’t be able to discriminate against students based on social factors […] admission to university will only be based on how well you have done”
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