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Education records could be linked to national insurance numbers in a computerised lifelong learning file to allow people to move in and out of college with ease. But proposals also include using a national database to check qualifications when students apply for a course or job.
Existing electronic systems could also be expanded to work a full mix-and-match education system, to allow people to move between courses, as well as going in and out of college or university.
The proposals are understood to form part of university admissions officials' response to the Dearing Report on Higher Education, and the Kennedy Report on Further Education, both published in July. The board of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service was expected to approve the package today.
Estimates suggest that applications to higher education institutions could double by 2004 if ministers accept Sir Ron Dearing's proposal to lift the cap on degree and diploma courses. Increasing the proportion of school-leavers going on to higher education to 45 per cent, as recommended by Sir Ron, would increase each year's undergraduate entry by 110,000 By the same time.
But UCAS is confident of coping with the demand using a new electronic applications system being piloted this year. And it believes the system, revealed in The TES last week, could eventually allow students to apply for university after their results are out, rather than relying on predicted grades.
The scheme, being tested in 2,000 schools this year, is an expansion of the UCAS computer network, which already holds results of exams from A-levels to general national vocational qualifications and Scottish Highers, and guards against applications fraud.
Proposals understood to form part of the UCAS response include expanding that system still further to hold electronic archives of results. Such a system could be used to build an electronic education record for all students, to be used for job or college applications throughout their lives.
The proposal mirrors recommendations made by barrister Helena Kennedy in her report on widening participation in further education, as well as fulfilling Sir Ron's wish to record university students' skills in key areas like communications and technology.
The same system could also verify exam results for employers, or regulate the kind of mix-and-match further and higher education system favoured By many reformers. UCAS has already been involved in work to break down degree courses into their component units and modules, an exercise essential to the creation of a so-called credit system, allowing students to "build" their own degree or diploma.
The UCAS proposals are also understood to include detailed proposals for a new statistical tracking service which will allow universities and colleges to mark their progress towards targets for including under-represented groups in higher education.
UCAS is also believed to be preparing a statistical service for universities to allow vice-chancellors to compare their intake with that of similar institutions. A national service would allow policy-makers to monitor general progress towards increasing participation rates.