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Future looking good for the bac

Most universities say course is good as a top A-level. George Wright reports

The Welsh baccalaureate has gained widespread acceptance at universities across the UK, with most treating a pass as a top-grade A-level for undergraduate entry, according to a TES Cymru survey.

The findings, from 51 universities, should ease concerns that many would still expect students to pass three A-levels in addition to the Welsh bac "core".

Students piloting the new diploma typically take two or three A-levels (or vocational equivalents), while also studying a "core" curriculum designed to broaden their skills and studies. The core requirements include: key skills; study of Wales, Europe and the world; work-related education; personal and social education; and an extended research project.

The core requires a significant amount of work, and has been allocated 120 points, equivalent to an A-grade A-level, by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

There had been concerns that universities might not accept applications from students with two A-levels and the bac core, rather than the traditional three A-levels. Around 400 students are taking the advanced-level bac this summer, with another 1,000 due to complete their studies in 2006.

But of 51 universities contacted by TES Cymru, only two said they would not treat the bac as an A-level in its own right. St Andrew's, in Fife, Scotland, said that for courses normally requiring three A-levels, a Welsh bac student would still need three A-levels as well. Plymouth took a similar line but is reviewing its policy.

A third, Manchester university, has yet to commit itself to the guidelines and is also reviewing its policy.

The general response, however, was very positive - even among the many universities that have yet to receive an application from a Welsh bac student. Forty institutions in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland - from older universities such as Cambridge and Oxford to former polytechnics including Liverpool John Moores - said they would treat the core according to UCAS guidelines.

Leslie Currie, assistant registrar at Bath university, said: "We have a high regard for the Welsh bac, and admissions tutors are aware of the skills it develops."

In Wales, all those contacted said they granted the UCAS-recommended 120 points to the core.

An admissions officer at the University of Wales Institute Cardiff said:

"We won't be able to assess it fully until the first cohorts have finished their degrees, but it seems to be a course that is being chosen by more able students."

Some respondents stressed that high-demand courses or those with specific subject requirements, such as law or medicine, might still require three A-levels.

And while universities' senior managers may be fully aware of the bac, admissions tutors in individual departments may still be opposed to the new qualification.

Keith Davies, director of the Welsh bac project team, said: "We are pleased that most universities have given such positive support."

Sarah Hillier, 20, from Swansea college, said she and fellow students in the first Welsh bac pilot cohort were relieved that it seemed to be gaining recognition.

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