Fears for poorest over plan to postpone university applications

1st July 2011 at 01:00
Disadvantaged students could be left without support over summer

Plans to postpone the entire university application process until after A-level results has sparked fears that poorer students will be left worse off.

The higher education white paper, published this week, outlined plans being considered by ministers to move university applications to after students receive their results.

But concerns have been raised that the plans could damage the chances of students from more disadvantaged backgrounds as the entire application process would take place over the summer months when fewer teachers would be available to offer advice.

To make matters worse, face-to-face careers services are being cut and local authorities are slashing funding for student-advice service Connexions.

The idea of post-qualification application has also led to concerns that headteachers and their staff will be forced to attend schools in August to advise students during the summer holidays.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of heads' union the NAHT, said: "I can see the logic behind the Government wanting to move to post-qualification applications, but it seems intent on stripping away the current careers-advice framework.

"In many ways schools would feel honour-bound to help corral and coach their students when it came to applying, even if it meant they would have to sacrifice their own holiday.

"Inevitably, those children who are not part of families who are able to help them through the hurdles and provide the level of support they need will be worse off."

The news follows a survey by the Institute of Career Advice (ICA) published last week, which revealed that nearly a quarter of careers advisers have been made redundant.

Andy Gardner, a schools careers adviser and member of the ICA, said the type of advice offered to students will be less worthwhile without proper face-to-face appointments, particularly if it is being rushed over the summer.

"What we are worried about is students making knee-jerk decisions rather than informed decisions, as it will all be rushed," Mr Gardner said. "For many years A-level results services have been available, but who will provide it now?"

Ucas is currently looking into the proposal to postpone the application process. A decision could be announced as early as next year.

The white paper admitted it would lead to huge disruption for schools, colleges and universities. But the document also stated that a potential benefit of the change could be the possibility of greater numbers of less well-off students applying to the top universities.

"A system of this kind might remove some of the stressful uncertainty from the current application process and could encourage applicants from disadvantaged and non-traditional backgrounds to apply to more selective courses," it stated.

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