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PSYCHOMETRIC tests, candidate profiles and an electronic admissions system are set to revolutionise university applications.

Despite the apparent collapse of plans for a post-qualification application system - where students apply for places after receiving their A-level results - a switch to computerised applications, and the new 16-19 curriculum, will both herald major changes.

The e-system, developed by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, will also introduce new flexibility which could allow institutions such as medical schools or the Scottish universities to customise their own applications systems within UCAS.

Only 4 per cent of applications last year were made electronically. But UCAS expects a huge increase after launching the system formally this autumn, when students apply for September 2000.

The system should end the need for UCAS to check by hand the annual 450,000 paper applications. The form can be sent on disk or, in future, by e-mail with "military-level" security.

It will be linked to a database of courses which will speed up students' hunt for the right university by allowing them to search by type of course, region, minimum entry requirements or other criteria.

That could mean the eventual end - on paper - of UCAS's hefty handbook. Some 750,000, costing pound;1.3 million, are produced annually, yet are out of date almost as soon as they are printed.

UCAS is also working on a psychometric test to add to the package which students can use to decide what to study.

The flexibility of the system could allow some universities to change the timing or method of admissions. Medical schools have already introduced an October deadline, two months ahead of other courses. But UCAS expects most to stay with the present timetable, especially after its proposals for a post-A-level application system faltered, disappointing university chiefs.

A de facto post-qualification system could arrive anyway. From next year students will follow the new 16-19 curriculum, with up to five AS-levels taken at the end of the first year. That will enable universities to make offers on the basis of firm results.

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