Break away from UCAS forms

8th April 2011 at 01:00

One of the unfortunate consequences of the funding crisis facing Scottish universities is that attention is being drawn away from another very important issue for young Scots aiming to go to university in the next few years.

There is increased competition for places at Scottish universities, and not just in subjects which have traditionally been oversubscribed, such as medicine. It is not unusual now to see school leavers with three, four or even five A-grade passes at Higher rejected from a broad range of courses, and there has been a steady increase in the number of conditional offers based on post-Higher qualifications gained in S6. If this pressure on selection had been matched by any consistency of admissions criteria from the universities, leavers and their school advisers would have had to adapt. Instead, there has been great inconsistency and a bewildering diversity of messages coming from each university, even from different faculties within a single institution.

I believe part of the difficulty lies with the UCAS application form itself. It was created to standardise applications at a time when there was nothing like the same degree of competition, and it no longer serves to discriminate between applicants. Scottish universities are finding themselves isolated in the UK by the tuition fee crisis. Perhaps they should use this as an opportunity to create their own uniquely Scottish application process, independent of UCAS.

It would hopefully allow them to be more transparent about their criteria for acceptance onto a course, and give them the right tools to do the job fairly. Agreeing to abide by a fixed date for sending out offers to a "gathered field" of applicants would be an important part of the new system. Setting clear entrance requirements for the year and sticking to them would be another, as would a requirement to give useful feedback to rejected applicants.

Dr Ken Greig, Rector, Hutchesons' Grammar, Glasgow.

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