Sixth-formers to get free mobiles

SIXTH-formers are to be given free, Internet-linked mobile phones to track the progress of their university applications.

The University and Colleges Admissions Service is negotiating with telephone companies for teenagers to receive WAP (wireless application protocol) phones.

The first batch could go out in the autumn. By early next year every aspiring undergraduate will have their own PIN number so they can chase their applications on the UCAS website.

Around half of university entrance applications for September 2001 are expected to be made online but offers of places will continue to be made in writing and issued by post. They could also make, and pay for, personal calls.

It is not clear yet how many of the 300,000 teenagers applying for higher education courses will be given the free mobile phones, what the rental and call charges will be or how they will be allocated.

But David Hart, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "This sounds absolutely fantastic. Anything that can be done to help during a very stressful time should be applauded."

The present system puts enormous pressure on students immediately after A-levels with the thousands who fail to reach - or exceed - the required grades scrambling for places through clearing.

The deal could do for the mobile phone companies what the special student finance deals have done for the banks, securing customer loyalty early on.

WAP phones, which are sold on the high street for as little as pound;29.99, give their owners access to Internet sites wenever and wherever they want.

The UCAS website - - already receives 1.5 million hits a week. Its web enquiry service, already piloted in several thousand schools, goes live for all applications for entry to university in 2001 at the end of this year.

Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS, said: "With the PIN number students can get into the website and find out how their applications are proceeding.

"They've all got mobiles now and if they're offered one free, with an extremely good call rate and access to information as well, that will be very attractive."

Last year, sixth-forms and colleges complained of repeated malfunctions with the admissions service's electronic applications.But UCAS said the fault lay with schools and colleges for using ageing machines incapable of handling the state-of-the-art software.

More than a quarter of Britain's 27 million mobile phone users are under 18 and two months ago, parents were warned that children should not use them except in an emergency.

The Independent Expert Group of Mobile Phones said the amount of time children in particular spent on mobiles should be limited because they could be more vulnerable to so far unrecognised effects of radiation.

Mary MacLeod, chief executive of the National Family and Parenting Institute, said: "Since there have been conflicting messages about the health risks many parents may not be in a position to make an informed judgment."

Most UCAS applicants are over 18 and able to enter into mobile contracts on their own, however.

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