Move for a better level of equality

5th November 2004 at 00:00
At last, a more sensible system of university admissions: next week, proposals from a commission led by the Secondary Heads Association will show that it is technically feasible to have students applying for university after they know their exam results. Given that half of all A-level predictions are wrong, it is hard to see any good reason why this change should be rejected. Helped by the magic of new technology, it will need just a slightly earlier start to exams, and a slightly later start to the university year.

This will help students and universities to make better-informed choices, cut down on bureaucracy and reduce the anxiety for young people - and their teachers and parents - at A-level results time. Most important, though, the changes should give working-class applicants a better chance of getting into a top university. At present they tend to apply to safer institutions because they do not have the confidence they will get high grades. Teachers can also underestimate their potential.

From 2008, if the proposals go ahead, students from less university-orientated families who do well at A-level will be able to apply to Oxbridge and other top-rank universities, secure in their results. The Westminster Government is committed to widening access. Figures published this week show state-educated pupils now make up 68 per cent of new undergraduates at the top universities, up 7 per cent since Labour came to power.

But more has to be done. The Schwartz report, which recommended post- qualifications admissions last summer, urged universities to provide more equality of opportunity. More help must be offered not only to students from lowlier backgrounds, but to mature students and those who wish to enter university through non-conventional and vocational routes.

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