A post-qualifications admissions system would allow students to consider the full range of qualifications available, including higher technical courses as well as degree-level study, the Department for Education said today.
In its response to the consultation on the higher education admissions system, the DfE said that the current approach was "complex, lacks transparency, works against the interests of some students and encourages undesirable admissions practices".
It added that a post-qualifications admissions (PQA) system could "lead to students making better-informed decisions, improve continuation rates in higher education and potentially lead to better career outcomes for students".
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A consultation on this opens today and will close on 13 May 2021. In his foreword, education secretary Gavin Williamson said: "I want to smash through ceilings that are preventing students from reaching their full potential, and I believe exploring this reform will help to do that.
"Moving to a system where offers are made after students have received their results could also put an end to the soaring use of unconditional offers, which sees students being encouraged to accept an offer which may not be in their best interest and reduces the incentive to work hard at A level. Such offers can leave those students unprepared for university study, more likely to miss their predicted grades and, later on, more likely to drop out of their course."
The implications of post-qualifications admissions
The consultation stresses that exams are “the fairest and most accurate way to measure a pupil’s attainment” – and says that it is “desirable that decisions by both students and universities are made on the basis of grades actually achieved, rather than predictions”.
It adds that PQA could remove the complexity in the system that “hinders some students” – particularly those who are disadvantaged and have less access to the knowledge needed to navigate the system.
It says that PQA would have positive implications for social mobility by removing some of the barriers to the more selective universities and courses for high-achieving but disadvantaged students.
The DfE says that it will “collaborate extensively” with Universities UK and the HE sector – and will aim to seek a “mutual outcome that brings about positive change to the admissions system”.
It says that implementing PQA would involve “major administrative changes” and have practical implications for other parts of the education system, too, including schools and colleges. It adds that if PQA was implemented, government would need to ensure that it would not “adversely impact teachers, students and the quality of admissions staff’s decision-making”.
“We will need, for example, to consider how students who have additional or special requirements could be adequately supported. It is, therefore, important that we consult on potential reform," says the DfE.
“Any PQA system should work for the education system as a whole, and we would encourage responses from across the education sector and from the general public on how you think this policy might affect you and suggestions on how we could take forward implementation in the best possible way. It is our intention to work with the whole education sector (higher education, further education and schools) to assess the case for PQA by consensus.“
Universities minister, Michelle Donelan said: “It has never been more important to level the playing field to ensure young people of all backgrounds have the very best opportunities to succeed for the future.
“We know the current system of using predicted grades for university admissions can let down pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds and limit aspirations.
“That is why we are consulting and working with the sector to explore how to achieve a system which works better to propel students into promising opportunities, and allows schools, colleges and universities to support them to reach their full potential.”
In November last year, Mr Williamson announced plans to “radically change” the higher education admissions system and move to a post-qualifications approach, "removing the unfairness” that some groups of prospective students currently face owing to inaccurate predicted grades.
At the time, the DfE said that the new system would involve HE offers by colleges and universities being made only after students have received their results, putting an end to the increasing use of unconditional offers, and removing the risk of students, particularly those from more disadvantaged backgrounds, receiving offers based on under-predicted grades.
Just days before the government announced the consultation, Ucas revealed its plans to reform the system, which the admissions service said included a post-qualification option where students’ university and college offers would be based on their actual grades, rather than teachers’ predictions.
Universities 'must not see a reduction in funding'
Professor Julia Buckingham, president of Universities UK, said that "any reforms must be for the benefit of students, the economy and society and be backed by sufficient funding to ensure that every student receives a high-quality education which best suits their needs and aspiration."
She added: “Enforcing minimum entry requirements for prospective university students would be a regressive move, preventing students from disadvantaged backgrounds whose prior educational experiences have adversely affected their grades from attending university and ignoring the evidence that many of these students excel at university. A university degree remains a good choice for many, and a growing number of jobs in business and public services require graduate-level skills; the economy and society cannot afford a reduction in the number of graduates.
“It is encouraging to see government’s commitment to making lifelong learning opportunities more accessible to all. Universities UK has long called for a more flexible student finance system which allows everyone to retrain throughout their lives, helping to meet the country’s skills needs and rebuild the economy and our public services. It also positive to see planned reforms of the Teaching Excellence Framework in line with ambitions to reduce bureaucracy, and we welcome the future consultation on post-qualification admissions.
“To better support students, government should provide maintenance grants for those who need them the most, including those considering studying shorter courses on a modular basis. Maintaining funding for foundation years will also be essential in supporting disadvantaged students, and a withdrawal of funding could lead to a shortage of students in strategically important subjects, such as engineering, and reduce the opportunities for talented underprivileged students.
“It is essential for students and communities that universities do not see a reduction in funding. Our universities, staff, graduates and students have been front and centre in the fight against coronavirus. Sufficient funding is needed to ensure universities can play a central role in driving the post-pandemic recovery of the economy and communities, as well as providing a high-quality university experience for students and meeting local skills needs.”
Clare Marchant, the chief executive at UCAS, welcomed the consultation.
She said: “We've been working on this for some time and believe there's never been a better time for looking at real structural reform of higher education admissions alongside the reform that UCAS has been embarking on for the last number of years.
“Before we submit our consultation response we'll be engaging with stakeholders across the UK; universities, colleges, teachers and advisers, and most importantly, students and parents.”
UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'We have been campaigning for a move to a post-qualifications university admissions system for years and a proper review has been a long time coming. The current system is based on inaccurately predicted results and leads to those from less affluent backgrounds losing out. Allowing students to apply after they receive their results will help level the playing field and put a stop the chaotic clearing scramble.’