Moving to a system where students apply to university after they have received their A-level results could disadvantage “very vulnerable” pupils, the chief executive of Ucas has said.
Clare Marchant told Tes that if “post-qualification application” was introduced without sweeping changes to the education system it could "really backfire".
While she insisted Ucas was not opposed to PQA in principle, she said it would require a huge shake-up at a time when schools and universities have “much more important things to deal with”.
In a report published today, the University and College Union has called for the introduction of PQA, which it says would eliminate unconditional offers and the “chaotic” clearing process.
The report says that no other country in the world uses predicted grades to award university places, and that seven in 10 staff involved in university admissions support the change.
Organisations such as the Sutton Trust have also argued that PQA would boost social mobility, because many disadvantaged, high-achieving students have their grades underpredicted.
However, in an interview with Tes held before today's report was released, Ms Marchant said that “the very thing the Sutton Trust is trying to do with post-qualification could really backfire”.
She claimed PQA could disadvantage “very vulnerable” pupils who have “little parental guidance” – such as looked-after children – because they would be forced to make a decision over a short timeframe when they have little support.
“What you’re going to say to them is, ‘You’ve got the period from mid August to the end of September…where you’ve got to make the biggest decision you have made in your life to date. For at least two or three of those weeks, your teachers will not be around. So you’re just going to be left. Make that decision yourself.' And I just think that could really backfire.
“You could end up with vulnerable young people having nobody to support them.”
Ms Marchant said she was not “anti-PQA” because “in the right circumstances it could work”.
But she said it would have to be accompanied by “changes to when the examinations are held, when students get their results, when the academic timetable starts at universities – if you did all of that, it could work”.
The UCU report proposes that students should start the first year of their higher education course in November to allow PQA.
However, Ms Marchant questioned whether now was the right time to attempt a radical overhaul.
“Do we think the secondary school sector and the higher education sector are ready for major changes in their cycle? I would argue they’ve got other much more important things to deal with at the moment.”