Students and Universities - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents


Memorandum 83

Submission from UCAS[339]

1.  INTRODUCTION

  1.1  As the UK's full-time undergraduate admissions service, UCAS welcomes the opportunity to submit evidence to the inquiry. It will focus on predominantly on the admissions area where it considers itself to have the appropriate evidence and expertise to bring to the Select Committee.

1.2  It should be noted that whilst UCAS has views on the balance between teaching and research, degree classification, and student support and engagement, it feels that other stakeholders will be better placed to comment on these areas.

2.  SUMMARY OF RECOMMENDATIONS

  2.1  UCAS recommends the development of a shared admissions process for part-time under-graduate courses which should draw on the benefits of the existing, successful model for full-time courses whilst being suitably modified to meet the needs of part-time learners.

2.2  UCAS recommends the development of a strategy for delivering improved IAG through a centralised first point of call portal, as recommended by the National Student Forum.

  2.3  UCAS recommends that further research is required into the particular issue of Non-Placed Applicants (NPAs) to identify how they might be better targeted and brought back into the system.

  2.4  UCAS recommends an ongoing commitment from Government for the work currently underway to find a solution to the coding of applicants classified as having "Unknown" socio-economic status thereby enabling better data collection and further insight into issues of fair access.

  2.5  UCAS would welcome Government support in promoting wider take-up of the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programme for admissions staff and the development of a CPD programme for schools, colleges and other centres from which students apply to enter Higher Education (HE) to promote best practice in admissions.

  2.6  Extensive work is required to ensure that the full range of vocational qualifications can be brought into the UCAS tariff system. Support is required in the form of funding for this project and UCAS would welcome the support of the Committee in seeking this.

  2.7  UCAS recommends further research into the impact of admissions tests on applicants from under-represented groups and to provide evidence that they are a necessary part of a holistic admissions process.

3.  UCAS

  3.1  UCAS was formed in 1993 by the merger of UCCA (Universities Central Council on Admissions), PCAS (Polytechnics Central Admissions Service) and SCUE (Standing Conference on University Entrance).

3.2  UCAS is the world's largest shared admissions service for higher education, processing well over half a million applications from around the world. Around 99% of these applications are made online via the "Apply" service. In addition to applications to full-time undergraduate courses, applications for postgraduate teacher training and to the music conservatoires are processed, respectively, via the GTTR (Graduate Teacher Training Registry) and CUKAS (Conservatoires UK Admissions Service). A new system UKPASS (UK Postgraduate Application and Statistical Service), launched in 2007, offers an application service for postgraduate courses in the UK.

  3.3  As an independent organisation and a charity, UCAS is owned by its institutional members, to which it is accountable, and is governed by its Board of Directors. UCAS is responsive to the needs of members, helping them to conduct admissions efficiently and effectively, on an equal and fair basis, whilst always respecting the autonomy that Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) hold in the matter of choosing their students.

  3.4  Beyond these formal accountabilities, UCAS is also responsive to its student customers, for whom it provides not only admissions services, but also key information to inform choices about higher education. Some of these functions are dispensed by UCAS Media, a social enterprise that acts as the "trading arm" of UCAS. It adds value to student choices through publications, websites, conferences and education conventions designed to help students navigate their way through higher education more easily.

  3.5  The UCAS website (ucas.com) is now one of the most popular in the UK and the most heavily used education site. 48% of university and college admissions staff use the site on a daily basis, and a further 32% use it once or twice a week. Applicants use it to select the right course at the right HEI and to find information on student finance, fees and bursaries, as well as to make and track their applications and reply to their offers. The UCAS website received 1,550,641 unique visitors during November 2008 alone. The recently launched ucas.tv received 330,000 hits within its first week.

  3.6  Additional, more general information relevant to life at university is provided through the newly-launched interactive "yougofurther" website, an online community for applicants and students in HE launched by UCAS Media. The one year old site boasts in excess of 3,000 forums with over 204,000 registered users attracting at its peak 700,000 page impressions per day (average 500,000 page impressions per day). A wide range of publications is also produced, aimed at helping students make informed choices about higher education, and guiding them and their parents through the application process.

  3.7  In addition to its core business, UCAS has evolved to carry out research, consultancy and advisory work for schools, colleges, HEIs, careers services, professional bodies and employers. UCAS organises conferences for HE admissions practioners, higher education fairs and conventions across the UK, as well as participating in the British Council Education UK overseas tours designed to assist UK institutions and the British Council in recruiting students from abroad. It also offers continuing professional development tailored to meet the needs of individual institutions or subject areas. This ensures a long-term commitment to improving admissions processes across the education sector.

4.  EFFECTIVENESS OF THE ADMISSIONS PROCESS

UCAS Admissions Process

  4.1  UCAS processes half a million applications a year to around 320 member institutions, and has wide-ranging data on the effectiveness of the process for admission to HEIs.

4.2  UCAS data shows that for a significant majority of applicants the progression from the 14-19 phase of education to higher education is smooth.

4.3  The move from a paper-based application system to an entirely electronic process has greatly improved the speed with which applications are processed. Overall, during peak periods, the average time for processing an application has fallen from 2-3 weeks to 24 hours.

  4.4  The processing system is also highly efficient with the majority of places in HEIs confirmed within a day of the publication of GCE A level results. For example, in 2008, 349,449 applicants (63%) had their places confirmed on 15 August 2008, out of a total of 554,499.

  4.5  By 8 October 2008 this percentage had risen to 81% (451,871 applicants). Only 2,804 (0.5%) had an outcome pending, and 13,973 (2.5%) had withdrawn from the scheme. The proportions are similar over the last three cycles, although the numbers of applicants have increased year on year.

Figure 1: Application and Acceptance figures 1962-2007



  (Source: UCAS).

  The latest results from market research into applicant satisfaction with the UCAS service confirm that 93.8% of respondents felt that they had received an excellent or good service. In respect of those who advise applicants, 91.3% felt that the service was excellent or good. The majority of HE staff felt satisfied with the service received from UCAS with 87.9% indicating that the service was excellent or good.

Non-Placed Applicants

  4.6  There is a group of approximately 100,000 applicants who are eligible for clearing, yet do not hold offers, have not met the conditions of their offer, or their status is unknown at the end of the application cycle. Research carried out by UCAS into these non-placed applicants (NPAs) found that women, black and minority ethnic groups and older applicants are over-represented in this group. The research has confirmed that about one third of such students subsequently re-apply, but others may be lost to the system.

4.7  UCAS is keen to ensure that further study is undertaken to deliver a better understanding of NPAs and thereby inform a strategic approach to remedial outreach activity.

  4.8  UCAS is currently collaborating with HEFCE, DIUS and HESA to explore ways in which application coding can be used to more clearly identify socio-economic status amongst NPAs which we hope will go some way to providing further insight into the nature of this problem.

  4.9  UCAS is also providing universities with data tools to assess current cycle decisions in its Application Tracker and Data Tracker services.

Part-Time Courses

  4.10  Achieving the Leitch targets of 40% of all adults in England gaining a Level 4 qualification by 2020, will depend on improving the take-up of part-time as well as full-time learning.

4.11  Part-time learning is an important route to HE qualifications for those who wish to combine work with learning. In particular, we believe that progression from vocational learning eg: Apprenticeships to HE is more likely to focus on part-time routes.

  4.12  At present, there is no shared system for admissions or single source of reliable information for part-time undergraduate courses.

  4.13  Providers of undergraduate part-time courses advertise on their websites and within their locality necessitating extensive research by potential learners. Research conducted by UCAS suggests that potential learners and their advisers find it difficult to locate the information they need.

  4.14  Having conducted their research, potential learners will often limit their choice to one institution in order to avoid the need to make a series of individual applications.

  4.15  The speed and efficiency with which these applications are then processed is hugely variable depending on the institutions concerned.

  4.16  UCAS believes that the lack of a shared admissions system or source of information is potentially constricting learner choice; making it difficult to collate accurate data about part-time learning and undermining the likelihood of reaching the Leitch targets.

  4.17  In Greater London, UCAS has gained support from the London-based Lifelong Learning Networks and HEFCE to investigate the feasibility of providing improved information, advice and guidance for those who wish to study part-time.

Well-Informed Choices

  4.18  UCAS believes that an "effective" HE admissions system is one that not only enables people to be admitted to HE, but actually empowers them to make well-informed choices about the appropriate pathway, course and institution. This rationale has underpinned the development of the aforementioned "yougofurther" website.

4.19  Evidence suggests that the extent and level of Information, Advice and Guidance (IAG) provided to students is highly variable depending on the type of learning centre from which an applicant is applying, the type of qualification being studied or sought, age group and ethnic background.

  4.20  In addition, as noted above, there is no single source of reliable information about part-time courses accessible to all potential learners and their advisers.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  4.21  UCAS recommends the development of a shared admissions process for part-time under-graduate courses which should draw on the benefits of the existing, successful model for full-time courses whilst being suitably modified to meet the needs of part-time learners.

4.22  UCAS recommends the development of a strategy for delivering improved IAG through a centralised first point of call portal, as recommended by the National Student Forum.

  4.23  UCAS recommends that further research is required into the particular issue of NPAs to identify how they might be better targeted and brought back into the system

5.  Fair Access and Widening Participation

  5.1  UCAS believes in fair and equitable admissions for all and considers that it has a pivotal role in helping institutions to achieve this.

5.2  UCAS was closely involved with the development of the Schwartz Report in 2004, which recommended that students should be selected based on their achievement and potential, and that information should be provided in a transparent and consistent manner.

  5.3  However, we note that in spite of Government initiatives to support fair access and widen participation, percentages progressing into HE from lower socio-economic groups have increased relatively little. Figure 2 shows the position from years of entry 2003 to 2007.

Figure 2

APPLICANTS CLASSIFIED BY SOCIO-ECONOMIC STATUS


Socio-economic status
2003
2004
2005
2006
2007

Higher managerial and professional occupations
17.0%
17.0%
15.7%
15.6%
15.6%
Lower managerial and professional occupations
24.5%
24.9%
23.8%
22.6%
22.6%
Intermediate occupations
12.2%
12.2%
11.8%
10.8%
10.7%
Small employers and own account workers
6.0%
6.0%
5.7%
5.7%
5.7%
Lower supervisory and technical occupations
4.0%
3.9%
3.7%
3.5%
3.5%
Semi-routine occupations
10.9%
11.1%
11.4%
10.6%
11.0%
Routine occupations
4.7%
4.7%
4.6%
4.5%
4.6%
Not classified/unknown
20.7%
20.4%
23.4%
26.8%
26.4%
Total
00.0%
100.0%
100.0%
100.0%
100.0%

Source: UCAS


  5.4  UCAS is currently working with HEFCE, DIUS and HESA to try to code more effectively the high proportion of applicants who are classified as "Unknown" in terms of socio-economic status.

Best Practice in Admissions

  5.5  UCAS has developed a CPD programme for admissions and recruitment staff. The programme consists of six key areas for those working in the field and is supported by professional development sessions in 20 areas. The development sessions range from "best practice when interviewing" to "qualification dates" to "verification and fraud". With funding from the UK funding councils, UCAS has established the Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA) programme. SPA identifies, confirms and informs good practice in admissions.

5.6  UCAS also offers a schools consultancy service that offers bespoke training on a range of subjects ranging from "developments in 14-19 curriculum" to "mature entry to HE" to "writing successful reference and personal statements" and "providing advice to applicants". During 2008 UCAS has delivered 230 individual school visits.

Information for Potential Learners

  5.7  UCAS has played an important role in helping young learners find the courses and institutions where they would like to study. One method employed is requesting that HEIs provide Entry Profiles for all courses. UCAS has a target of achieving 100% completed Entry Profiles by September 2009.

5.8  This is particularly important for qualifications other than A levels. Concerns over the ability of HE Admissions Officers to digest and comprehend the range of Level 3 qualifications are borne out by analysis demonstrating that whilst full information in respect of entry requirements is provided for A levels, less information is provided for other qualifications. 93% of HEIs gave information about entry requirements for applicants with A levels, and 44% and 55% for BTEC National Certificates and National Diplomas respectively, and finally 21% and 24% for OCR National Diplomas and National Extended Diplomas respectively.

Apprenticeships—Progression to HE

  5.9  UCAS has recently presented evidence to the Skills Commission Inquiry into Apprenticeships stating that progression from Advanced Apprenticeships to HE is minimal. In 2008, there were only 228 applicants through UCAS for full-time, undergraduate places in HEI institutions.

5.10  Part of the reason for low rates of progression from Apprenticeships to HE, may be a lack of understanding amongst admissions staff of the value of vocational qualifications and a subsequent reluctance to make offers.

  5.11  This is reinforced by UCAS' experience and is unfortunately underpinned by the incompatibility at present between Apprenticeship frameworks and the UCAS Tariff.

  5.12  UCAS introduced its Tariff to help bring about a fairer and more transparent way of comparing applicants with different qualifications. However, whilst the Tariff is influential in raising the awareness within HE of the potential for non-traditional candidates to progress into HE study, it covers only a small proportion of the total number of vocational qualifications.

  5.13  This is due primarily to the multiple permutations of qualifications within Apprenticeship frameworks. UCAS has considered incorporating Apprenticeship Frameworks into the UCAS Tariff but at present there is no comprehensive map of the full range of Apprenticeship frameworks (180 are on offer across 80 sectors) and the underpinning qualifications associated with each. Given the range and complexity of Apprenticeships, a mapping exercise would be costly and time-consuming and, as yet, no organisation has been in a position to dedicate the necessary resource.

  5.14  UCAS has however undertaken some initial activity including the establishment of a protocol for IT and Engineering frameworks to determine UCAS points. This has not yet been uploaded onto ucas.com or applied to other Apprenticeships beyond IT and Engineering.

Admissions Test

  5.15  UCAS and SPA are currently monitoring the use of admissions tests as an additional filter by which to select applicants. These admissions tests vary considerably in scope and type: from aptitude tests and critical thinking assessments to subject specific tests.

5.16  In the 2007 cycle, 46,213 applicants applied to courses with identified admissions tests declared as entry requirements. The largest proportion of those applicants applied to courses requiring the UKCAT (UK Clinical Aptitude Test) (20,543) whilst 6,019 applicants applied to courses requiring the LNAT (National Admissions Test for Law) and 8,696 to courses at institutions with their own admissions tests. A further 23,261 applied to courses that had an unspecified admission test.

  5.17  In the 2008 cycle, 52,294 applicants applied to courses with identified admissions tests, 21,939 of them to courses requiring the UKCAT, 7,593 to courses requiring the LNAT and 12,030 to courses at institutions with their own admissions tests. A further 5,741 applied to courses with unspecified admission tests.

  5.18  Notwithstanding the increased use of admissions tests, it is important to state that only 16% of institutions require them and that they affect only 0.7% of courses listed in the UCAS scheme. Nonetheless, there may be widening participation issues in relation to use of these tests in terms of cost and accessibility.

  5.19  Those institutions which choose to support admissions processes through use of admissions tests need to be confident that these tests provide critical information that is substantively different from that derived from current 14-19 qualifications. There is also a need for HEIs to be transparent about the way in which tests contribute to the decision-making process and to ensure that students from lower socio-economic groups are not deterred from applying to institutions and courses which use admissions tests.

RECOMMENDATIONS

  5.20  UCAS recommends an ongoing commitment from Government for the work currently underway to find a solution to the coding of applicants classified as having "Unknown" socio-economic status thereby enabling better data collection and further insight into issues of fair access.

5.21  UCAS would welcome Government support in promoting wider take-up of the CPD programme for admissions staff and the development of a CPD programme for schools, colleges and other centres from which students apply to HE to promote best practice in admissions.

  5.22  Extensive work is required to ensure that the full range of vocational qualifications can be brought into the UCAS tariff system. Support is required in the form of funding for this project and UCAS would welcome the support of the Committee in seeking this.

  5.23  UCAS recommends further research into the impact of admissions tests on applicants from under-represented groups and to confirm that they are a necessary part of a holistic admissions process.

January 2009







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