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Even low GNVQ passes open doors to university courses

The lowest grade of pass on the new general national vocational qualification is providing a passport to higher education, a report from the Universities and Colleges Admissions service this week shows.

Progress to HE from the advanced level GNVQ was reckoned to be a closed door without a merit or distinction. But the UCAS report shows that predicted overall grades made little difference to the applicant's chances of being accepted.

Some 95 per cent of those expected to achieve a distinction received offers compared with 90 per cent of those predicted a pass. The report's authors say this "may indicate a growing acknowledgement on the part of some selectors of the challenge involved in achieving above a pass standard."

As universities finalised their new intake this week, 20,000 students made it to degree and sub-degree courses such HND courses from the vocational A-level route.

An estimated 92 per cent of GNVQ applicants have received one or more offers compared with 88 per cent of UCAS applicants generally.

The UCAS report shows that the vast majority of GNVQ applicants (70 per cent) came from further education and sixth-form colleges. Applicants to non-degree courses such as Higher National Diplomas, were more likely to receive an offer, with two out of every three individual applications resulting in the offer of a place. Each application for a degree course stood a 50-50 chance of resulting in an offer.

However, one university tutor said that they would not consider anybody with a GNVQ pass "unless they can persuade us that they are a lot better than their result suggests". The report suggests many have convinced tutors of their worth beyond that reflected in the grade of pass.

Overall, 175 higher education establishments made offers to GNVQ students this year. Twenty-six universities, mainly former polytechnics, made more than 1,000 offers but some 17 "old" universities have made more than 100 offers of places.

"Advanced GNVQs are growing in currency across a wide range of HEIs, including some very selective institutions," the report concludes.

But difficulties in matching GNVQ grades with the A-level points system - the subject of a UCAS consultation document sent to the Department for Education and Employment this month - can disadvantage those with the new qualification.

"The limited opportunity for differentiation through grading may result in GNVQ applicants failing to gain places unless they achieve the full requirements of the offer," the report notes. "It is at present difficult to compensate students who marginally miss achieving the conditional offer grade"

At Sheffield University, applications from GNVQ students have increased from "a handful" two years ago to around 750 this year, mostly in business studies and social science courses.

Admission tutor Dr Andrew Hindmarsh said the university, which accepted 20 students in 1995, tried to treat every application on its merits.A further report tracking the progress of 160 ex-GNVQ students through higher education will be published next month. Judith Compton, the report's co-author, said that the GNVQ students interviewed were generally better prepared for the kind of independent learning environment found in HE and more career minded, but sometimes struggled with essay writing and unseen exams.

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