The majority of Russell Group universities are yet to decide whether they will accept T levels as entry qualifications for undergraduate courses, Tes can reveal.
The news comes a month after the Department for Education revealed that T levels – which it describes as the "gold standard technical course of choice" – would be awarded Ucas points. The top T-level grade, a Distinction*, will be worth the same number of Ucas points as 3A*s at A level.
The DfE said this meant that "young people, parents and employers can be confident T levels…will offer students the option of progressing to the next level, whether that is a job, higher technical training, a degree or an apprenticeship".
But individual universities are free to decide whether or not to accept T levels in their entry requirements. With less than a year to go until the first wave of the new qualifications is introduced, the majority of Russell Group members have not yet made a final decision on whether to accept them.
T levels: What are they and how will they work?
Overall, 16 of the 22 Russell Group members that responded to Tes said they had not yet finalised their policy on T levels.
T levels: A 'suitable preparation for students'?
One university, Imperial College London, said that it would not be accepting T levels at all.
A spokesperson said: “We need to ensure that students are academically able to cope with the rigours of an Imperial degree and we do not believe that T levels provide a suitable preparation for students.”
However, five universities – Oxford, Liverpool, Newcastle, Warwick and Durham – said that they would accept T levels for at least some of their degrees.
In September 2020, T level courses will be taught at more than 100 colleges and schools. As it currently stands, the students starting those courses do not know whether or not those qualifications will be accepted by the UK’s top universities.
Several universities told Tes that there was not yet sufficient information available for them to make a decision.
A spokesperson for the University of Edinburgh said: “To date, very limited information regarding the content of the new T levels has been published, so the university is yet to determine the acceptability of T levels for admissions purposes.”
'Worrying but not surprising'
The University of Oxford, which was named as the number one university in the world by the Times Higher Education (THE) for the fourth year in a row at the beginning of September, said it recognised the achievements of students who hold vocational, professional or other qualifications – including T levels.
A spokesperson said: ”One of the advantages of the admissions process at Oxford is that each application is considered individually, on its own merits. Tutors will review qualifications, the performance on any relevant admissions test, the personal statement, the academic reference and predicted grades for any future examinations, as well the interview if the candidate is invited to one.”
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) think tank, said students and parents needed clarity on universities' positions.
He added: “There are young people who will be taking these qualifications and won’t know where they stand. In some ways, while I think it’s regrettable that Imperial isn't going to give a new qualification the benefit of the doubt, at least it's offering clarity. It’s better than the ones who won’t give you an answer, because it's saying in black and white its position.
“When Oxford says we take each candidate on a case-by-case basis, you need to question whether that is actually a polite way of saying, 'We’re not really going to accept these qualifications.'”
He added the Tes’ findings were "worrying but not surprising".
“The government is saying, 'T levels are appropriate school-leaving qualifications that leave your routes open'. Actually, what universities are saying is: 'That may not be true'. That is a minefield for a 16-year-old."
Catherine Sezen, senior policy manager at the Association of Colleges, said: "T levels offer not only knowledge of a sector but also the high-level practical skills required by employers. Progression opportunities are varied and include higher education, higher-level apprenticeships and work. The T levels offer builds on the work colleges already do to enable progression to a wide range of higher education provision and employment."
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We are working with higher education providers, Ucas and others to raise awareness of T levels, and ensure that universities are aware that from 2022 they can admit pupils who studied these qualifications.”
Tes understands that the DfE does not expect universities to have made their final decision on admitting T levels yet, with the final specifications for the first three T levels set to be approved by the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education in spring 2020 – just months before students in the first cohort begin their studies.
York and Exeter universities did not respond to Tes' enquiries.