A NEW university admission points system that gives more weight to lower A-level grades has been criticised by ministers, who fear it will devalue the achievements of high-flying students.
The new system, which also gives academic and vocational qualifications equal weight, is to be introduced in 2002.
The framework - the first to cover the whole United Kingdom - will make an A grade three times as valuable as an E grade from 2002, instead of five times as at present.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), which is responsible for the points system, believes it is unfair that a candidate awarded an A for a mark of around 70 per cent should get five times the points given to someone getting an E for a mark of about 40 per cent.
However ministers wanted the five-to-one ratio preserved, arguing that it rightly rewarded the effort required to win a top grade.
The current system, which awards an A-level A grade ten points and an E grade two points will be abolished after 2001.
The new framework will give points for GNVQs, Scottish qualifications, Key Skills (basic qualifications in communications, numeracy and IT) and the new AS-levels (Advanced Subsidiary) as well as the new-look A-levels. Students applying to start courses in 2002 will be awarded 120 points for an A grade at A-level or at six-unit Advanced GNVQ.
UCAS chief executive Tony Higgins said: "Only about half of the people applying to higher education through UCAS have A-levels, and until now there has been no way for admissions officers to compare different qualifications.
"The current A-level points scoring system is a crude device, introduced more than 30 years ago as a form of internal 'statistical shorthand'. It bears little relation to achievement at A-level, and was never meant to be used for allocating university places - still less for performance tables."
UCAS hopes to widen the tariff in future to include points for the International Baccalaureate, BTEC national qualifications and the irish School Leaving Certificate.
Universities and colleges will continue to make offers based on grades in particular exams eg. ABB with an A in French. However, they will now be able to use the tariff to calculate the equivalent in other qualifications. NEW POINTS TARIFF
A-level and six-unit advanced GNVQ (old A-level tariff in brackets)
A - 120 (10)
B - 100 (8)
C - 80 (6)
D - 60 (4)
E - 40 (2)
AS Levels will be worth half and 12-unit GNVQs twice the above number of points
Level 4 - 30
Level 3 - 20
Level 2 - 10