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'Ill-prepared' for higher study

More universities are opening doors to GNVQ candidates, Ben Russell reports.

Universities are increasingly welcoming students who chose GNVQs instead of traditional A-levels, a new study showed today.

But a snapshot survey of first-year undergraduates who took the so-called vocational A-levels reveals concerns that their GNVQs lacked depth, neglected essay writing and left them ill-prepared for university assessment.

The study comes after intense criticism of GNVQs by Professor Alison Wolf at the Institute of Education in London. Professor Wolf concluded that GNVQs failed either to offer a real academic alternative to A-levels or to provide a clear route to a job for young people.

Both the percentage of GNVQ students gaining places and the range of universities making offers are increasing, according to research for the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

Malcolm Deare, director of the GATE project, a study into GNVQs as a route into higher education, said around 90 per cent of Advanced GNVQ students who applied to higher education received offers of places at university and an increasing proportion went on to take them up.

The figures, however, contrast with high drop-out rates on Advanced GNVQ courses, running at around 60 per cent. Professor Wolf's study, published in June, found only a fifth of those registering for an Advanced GNVQ eventually entered higher education.

Mr Deare said that despite this there were indications that more universities were now willing to consider GNVQ students.

He said: "The number of universities which recognise GNVQs is rising, encouragingly, particularly in the more traditional universities."

But figures published by UCAS earlier this year show full acceptance of GNVQs is still a long way off. Of the 175 higher education institutions making offers to GNVQ students, 26 universities - mainly former polytechnics, made more than 1,000 offers. Only 17 "old" universities made more than 100 offers.

The project, funded jointly by UCAS and the National Council for Vocational Qualifications, followed the first GNVQ graduates to leave university. A full study will be completed next year.

Mr Deare said first reactions from undergraduates had been encouraging, although criticisms had emerged. The percentages of GNVQ and A-level students who dropped out during their first year at university were roughly the same, he said.

An associated study of the views of around 130 first-year undergraduates who entered university with Advanced GNVQs will be published later this month.

Dr Gillian Squirrel of Bristol University interviewed young people about how their attitudes to the qualification had changed at university.

Some students said GNVQ courses lacked depth, while others felt uneasy about essay-writing and other forms of assessment common in higher education.

Mr Deare rejected criticisms of GNVQs, arguing that many students had said they would not have gone into higher education had it not been for the GNVQ option.

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