St Andrews may opt out of Ucas

Step will be taken if post-qualification applications are introduced

Elizabeth Buie

Plans by the admissions service Ucas to introduce a system where pupils could only apply to university after receiving their exam results are facing mounting opposition.

The University of St Andrews is one of a group of smaller research- intensive universities (the 1994 Group) that have threatened to opt out of Ucas if post-qualification applications (PQAs) are introduced.

The Russell Group, which represents large research-intensive universities, has warned that the proposals might deter students from making "aspirational" choices, because they could only apply to two universities.

And Universities Scotland, which represents the principals of all Scottish higher education institutions, does not believe the 2016 target date is feasible. Nor does it believe the new system would be an improvement on the current one, which is based largely on students being made conditional offers.

It warns that Scottish applicants would be placed at "a considerable disadvantage" to applicants from elsewhere in the UK, as there would be no opportunity for them to receive information, advice and guidance post- results, prior to submitting their Ucas applications.

Without support from universities, which fund Ucas through subscriptions, the plans are "highly unlikely to be picked up", according to Matthew Andrews, chair of the admissions practitioners' group of the Academic Registrars Council.

The main concerns in Scotland are that: Scottish exams would have to start earlier and be compressed into almost half the current time; the Scottish Qualifications Authority would have to timetable more coincident exams; marking time would be cut from eight to four weeks; results would be released in early July when school staff are on holiday; and pupils would not have access to vital support in making applications.

Universities Scotland warns that a number of different groups would also be disadvantaged by a post-results system:

international students would not have time under the revised timetable to get a visa and might not have received their exam results;

mature students might struggle to make family arrangements in advance of their course start dates;

disabled applicants might not have time to get assessed support; and

applicants with Higher, National and Access qualifications might not have got their result in time.

A major concern is that a PQA system would make it more difficult for contextual admissions data, such as information backing up applications from pupils who do not come from a background where higher education is the norm, to be used effectively.


Scottish universities have urged education secretary Michael Russell not to introduce statutory targets for recruiting students from deprived backgrounds, along with a system of fines for failure.

The Scottish government's report Putting Learners at the Centre opened the door to legislation aimed at widening access to higher education, but did not include details.

NUS Scotland and the student presidents of St Andrews, Edinburgh and Aberdeen universities have backed the use of statutory targets and fines.

But Universities Scotland warned that such a system might have "unintended perverse effects". A spokeswoman suggested that if admissions officers were under undue pressure to avoid fines, they might admit students who were not capable of completing certain courses and they would suffer more if they then dropped out.

Universities Scotland wants the government to pass the responsibility for reaching outcome agreements on widening access with individual institutions to the Scottish Funding Council.

"Placing this responsibility with the SFC, rather than directly between government and universities, allows more scope for the setting of realistic time frames for achievement," it argues. "It takes years to see real progress."

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Elizabeth Buie

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