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Clearing system may halt poaching

University-style clearing houses are being considered by colleges to stamp out poaching of students and solve the problems of multiple applications.

Possible models for local clearing houses in city areas, where clusters of colleges compete, are being examined by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

Tony Higgins, UCAS chief executive, said: "UCAS, or its predecessor, was set up to prevent anarchy such as a student applying to 10 universities, but only accepting one. That is the problem FE colleges are now suffering."

Colleges must consider local schemes, he insisted. "People might say that if everyone goes local you don't need one. But these days in areas where there are dozens of colleges you could play one off against the other."

Complaints about universities poaching from each other are being investigated. Colleges also say they are losing students to HE seven to eight weeks into the courses. "We are asking for evidence to see if it is systematically going on," said Mr Higgins.

FE college heads in the Leeds Principals Group are considering a local clearing house. James MacWilliams, principal of Leeds College of Technology, said: "There are eight colleges in this area and some of us want to find areas where we can co-operate."

A central strategy to deal with inquiries, advice on specialist courses and handling of them was needed, he said. Poaching by the colleges had created anxiety, but this was usually based on misunderstandings.

Principals in the Huddersfield area have also discussed the idea. Malcolm Rossiter, principal of Huddersfield Technical College, said: "I would certainly be in favour of a local or regional admissions system. Our problem is that students make multiple applications and they do not tell us if they decide not to come."

"We may well decide to set up a clearing house to solve these problems, " he said.

Some areas have schemes close to that of a clearing house. Havering school-leavers do not apply to college but "transfer" to either the FHE or sixth-form college. There is one transfer form which is passed between the institutions.

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