The timing of admission decisions
85. At present universities and colleges make
offers of places on the basis of information included in UCAS
documents, predictions of A level success, and interview. There
has been a move to postpone the admission process until after
A level results are known. The CVCP working party on university
admissions was not able to agree on a post-qualification application
(PQA) system which satisfied everybody because of difficulties
with the timetables of the present school and university years.
The Secondary Heads Association told the Sub-committee that 'Russell
universities were more reluctant than others to adopt post-qualification
Mr Neil Hopkins, Principal of Peter Symonds Sixth Form College,
questioned the existing timing of university entrance: "university
terms do not last 52 weeks of the year; why can they not start
a month later?".
86. Professor A.H. Halsey and Dr Gerry McCrum of
Oxford University have stated that Oxford colleges will interview
all applicants and make offers to a certain proportion of these
depending on the number of places available, based on predicted
A level grades and the results of Oxford's interview process.
They described the final stage of the process, to fill places
when fewer candidates reach the grades required than the number
of places available, as something of a "black art".
Like other universities filling places after the publication of
A level results in August, colleges of the University of Oxford
take into account factors such as the individual's circumstances
in making decisions on whether to accept a candidate who has missed
the grades required by the college's offer. We recommend that
university and college admissions offices should establish and
publish criteria for taking decisions on candidates who have missed
their offers which are as clear as possible.
87. Baroness Blackstone agreed that there were many
advantages to having a postqualification application system,
although she recognised the difficulties in adopting this system.
The Minister told the Sub-committee that it was a matter for the
higher education sector to work out in discussion with schools
88. An Independent Commission on the Organisation
of the School Year, chaired by a former Chairman of the House
of Commons Education, Science and Arts Select Committee, Mr Christopher
Price, was established by the Local Government Association in
December 1999, and published its findings in September 2000.
The Commission considered evidence from schools, local education
authorities, tourist organisations, the higher education sector
and bodies representing teachers and parents. It outlined proposals
for a six term year designed around three broad objectives: a
reduction in teacher stress; measures to reduce social exclusion,
especially in the transition from school to higher education;
and a smoother process of learning assessment and transfer.
89. Of most relevance to our inquiry was the Commission's
proposal that Term 5, to be taken during April and May, would
become an 'assessment term' during which major public examinations
would be taken. Such a scheme would facilitate application to
universities after the results of A level and Vocational A levels
were known. Term 6 in the last year of school would be an 'enrichment
term' when young adults on the point of leaving the secondary
sector could develop non-academic life skills.
90. School leavers who have more complete information
about their own achievements will be able to make more informed
choices about whether and where to enter higher education. We
expect that a system of post-qualification application would make
a substantial contribution to improving access for those who enter
higher education by the A level route. It is very disappointing
that after many years of discussion and despite the obvious merits
of deciding whether to offer a place on a university course on
the basis of the applicant's actual rather than predicted results,
it has so far been impossible to devise an acceptable system of
post-qualification applications. We welcome the proposals from
the Independent Commission on the Organisation of the School Year.
We strongly support moves toward an academic calendar which allows
applications to higher education to be based on students' qualification
results (Post Qualification Applications) rather than projections
of their performance. The Independent Commission's report is an
important contribution to this debate, and should be acted upon
with all possible speed.
The UCAS Points tariff
91. UCAS has developed a new points tariff which
will be introduced in 2002. This will enable students' increasingly
diverse qualification statusA levels, AS levels, Advanced
Extension papers, GNVQs (now called Vocational A levels), BTEC
National Certificates and Diplomas and eventually the International
Baccalaureateto be recognized. UCAS' aim is to have every
qualification in the curriculum framework awarded a tariff,
although Mr Tony Higgins, Chief Executive of UCAS, told the Education
Sub-committee that GCSE results would not be included in the tariff.
Use of the tariff will enable a points score to be aggregated
from different qualifications. There is no ceiling to the number
of points that can be accumulated, there will be no risk of double-counting,
and AS level scores will be subsumed into an A level score in
the same subject.
92. Baroness Blackstone, Minister for Higher Education,
acknowledged that universities have become hugely more flexible
than they were 10 or 15 years ago in recognising a wider range
She was delighted that most universities were going to make use
of the new tariff, but did not believe that using or not using
the tariff itself would be an impediment to access.
She went on to explain:
"I can certainly envisage
a situation in which a university decided that the tariff system,
where you tot up points and then reach a total and see how students
compare, might not be the one that they would want to make most
use of. They might want to look at a whole range of individual
qualifications, plus other qualities that students might want
to possess to do really well in particular courses that they are
We deeply regret that some universities do not
appear prepared to use the proposed UCAS tariff where it could
be relevant and could increase flexibility as part of a strategy
to achieve wider participation. We welcome the initiative taken
by UCAS to develop a tariff-based system to provide a means of
recognising the range of qualifications which now provide students
with the necessary preparation for study in higher education.
69 50 per cent of the University of Oxford's young full-time
undergraduate entrants in 1998-99 were admitted from independent
schools. HEFCE, Performance indicators in higher education
in the UK, October 2000. Back
and Curriculum Authority, Press release 17 March 2000. Back
The 'Russell Group' are named for the Russell Hotel in Russell
Square, London where a caucus of certain universities would meet
prior to meetings of the CVCP in nearby Tavistock Square. The
'Russell Group' is generally considered to comprise the more traditional
and well-resourced part of the HE sector. Back
Magazine No. 158, 1998, page
Government Association, The rhythms of schooling, September