NVQ rated top for university admission

The first vocational qualification to be approved for the university entrance points system has been valued higher than an A grade at A-level.

But students on vocational courses will still find themselves shut out from some of the top universities, with Oxford saying it will not make offers based on NVQs.

The level 3 NVQ, offered by the Association of Accounting Technicians, is valued at 160 Ucas points, 40 more than a top A-level grade. The tariff will come into effect for applications in 2009.

Jane Scott Paul, chief executive of the AAT, said the decision would help to dispel some of the snobbery towards vocational qualifications in the UK.

"This gives admissions officers the assurance that this has been through proper procedures. I hope we will see people taking up this opportunity," she said.

She added that the qualification had been compared with an A-level in accounting, and was judged to be more time-con-suming, justifying the greater points score.

To be considered for the Ucas tariff, 30 higher education institutions had to express an interest in accepting the NVQ for admissions. But elite universities have already ruled it out, and inclusion in the tariff does not oblige them to recognise the qualification.

A spokeswoman for Oxford University said: "No, Oxford wouldn't be incorporating NVQs into conditional offers - our courses are academic and theoretical rather than vocational, so NVQs wouldn't provide the right grounding to prepare for an Oxford course.

"That's no judgement on them as qualifications, and it's not to suggest they are `worse' than A-levels. It's just about their similarity or otherwise to the way students have to think and work in an Oxford degree."

Ms Scott Paul said universities could be missing out on talented students who are just coming to academic study by a different route.

"People who take this qualification might be more mature. They may have been in the workplace rather than a traditional academic environment, and universities are realising there is a talent pool which they want to access," she said.

"This tariff provides universities with a resource they can use to look in a wide pool of people from non-academic backgrounds with confidence."

While the tariff does not apply to any other NVQs apart from the one provided by the AAT, Ucas is considering the inclusion of other vocational qualifications.

Advanced apprenticeships in subjects such as engineering have already been approved in principle, and Ucas is carrying out the work to determine what points score they will be worth.

Jill Johnson, director of policy and communications at Ucas, said it had taken more than six years since the tariff was introduced in 1999 for an NVQ to even apply to be included.

She said: "It's partly the subject area that made this different. Although it's an NVQ and more competency-based, the underlying knowledge assessed is relevant for further study, particularly in the financial services area."

The relative points scores of the qualifications were difficult to assess, she said, but A-levels usually formed a programme of study involving several subjects, whereas the NVQ might be more likely to stand alone.

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