Awarding bodies are being urged to help those taking vocational qualifications, reports Lucy Ward.
Colleges and awarding bodies must speed up their marking of vocational qualifications to ensure students do not lose out in the race for a university place, according to the further education superbody.
Responding to a consultation on the future of the university admissions process, the Association of Colleges says candidates taking vocational courses could be disadvantaged compared with those with confirmed A-level passes unless firm results deadlines are set.
Unlike A-levels, where a final exam marks a clear end to the course, many vocational qualifications involve external assessment throughout the course, allowing students to gather evidence for their portfolios throughout each term.
In summer 1995, hold-ups in validating results of advanced general national vocational qualifications caused problems for university applicants unable to prove their grades to admissions tutors.
In its response to the admissions system review, being carried out by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, the AOC says dates for issuing of certificates should be agreed across all exam and awarding bodies, and more effort made to keep to deadlines.
The issue will become particularly crucial if the CVCP pushes through its proposals to allow students to opt to apply to university after they receive their results as an alternative to offering predicted grades beforehand.
The so-called "dual applications system" has won wide support, but would rely on results being available quickly to ensure applicants have time to secure suitable places. Most of those using vocational qualifications as their passport to university come from colleges.
Judith Norrington, author of the AOC document, said that the proposed admissions changes would also effectively set a two-year time-limit on advanced GNVQ courses, even though the qualifications were originally designed to be open-ended.
"To be fair to students wanting to apply to university, we need to make it clear that that is when they will be expected to complete," she said. In 1995, a "significant minority" completed in the autumn rather than the summer term.
In a second consultation response also submitted this week, the AOC calls for radical changes in the funding of education and training for 16 to 19-year-olds.
Its paper, submitted jointly with other further education organisations, endorses government proposals to create a level funding playing field between schools, colleges and work-based training. However, it renews fierce criticism of Department for Education and Employment calculations on the relative costs of the three providers, which it says underplay colleges' cost-effectiveness.
The differing funding systems for the three routes each have faults, the paper says, though it suggests the method of distributing cash to colleges is closest to the principles being proposed by the DFEE.
The college organisations stress future funding systems should not rely too heavily on payment by results, which could encourage unscrupulous providers to rush students through courses.
The main bulk of funding should be tied to each student's learning programme and should take into account those elements which do not lead towards formal qualifications, says the paper.