The performance of students who passed their Advanced GNVQ last summer will determine how the academic world views the new vocational A-levels. This in turn will allow universities and colleges of higher education to base their entrance requirements on prior knowledge and experience.
The Advanced GNVQ is regarded as equivalent to two A-levels - a pass being the broad equivalent of grades DE; a merit, grade C; and a distinction, grades AB. But many Advanced GNVQ students have found that higher education prospectuses often fail to mention GNVQ in their entry requirements. Those that do, tend to refer to an Advanced GNVQ or a Level 3. But this is no help to students who want to know what grades they need for their chosen course and may give the impression that their GNVQ is not recognised by universities and colleges of higher education.
Since the UCAS handbook and the Letts guide to higher education offer no entry criteria at present, students must ask the institutions concerned. But not all institutions have a clear policy on GNVQ entry. The main reasons for this are the speed of change, the accuracy of information received by admissions tutors, and critical commentary in the press. Also, as most students will not be applying to UCAS until 1995 for a 1996 start, universities may be playing for time, unsure of what to expect from a GNVQ student.
A survey by Swindon New College was carried out in response to demands from leisure and tourism students for information on HE. The sample of 105 courses from 52 universities and colleges of higher education, reveals that institutions vary widely, not only in entry criteria but also in the accuracy of information.
The list of entry requirements (see below) was determined by contacting admissions tutors. It became apparent that only a handful of institutions could provide the necessary information from a centralised admissions unit. At the departmental level most were extremely helpful. The survey is meant as a guide, not a definitive list. The most common entry requirement for degree courses (see table) was a distinction (30.8 per cent), then a merit (24.6 per cent); 20 per cent asked predicted grades of merit and distinction. Whatever the GNVQ requirement, GCSE English and mathematics were essential.
Traditionally, colleges have tended to offer lower grades although this is not the case for all. Some 40 per asked for a distinction for degree courses. Universities were divided, with equal numbers (25 per cent) asking for a merit, distinction or a distinction plus an A-level. Only one university said a pass would do for degree entry, but an A-level would also be needed.
The range in criteria may suggest a tendency on behalf of the universities to support the status quo or to uphold the academic rigour of their students. Those offering merit may have had more experience of dealing with vocational education or have identified Advanced GNVQ leisure and tourism students as their primary target for recruitment.
For HND and similar qualifications (see table), 60 per cent asked for a merit and 30 per cent a pass. The difference between universities and colleges is once again highlighted with 80 per cent of universities requiring a merit and only 13.4 asking for a pass.
Colleges were more evenly split between merit (48 per cent) and pass (40 per cent). Where institutions stated that either a merit or distinction was necessary, it was surprising to see that 12 per cent of colleges stipulated this requirement as compared to 6.7 per cent of universities. Potentially more colleges could ask for higher entry grades than universities although this does not appear to be the case overall.
The survey shows that admissions tutors are getting inaccurate information from awarding bodies and others. Some saw GNVQ as a replacement for the BTEC National Diploma and requested a quota of modules passed with distinction.
Two centralised admissions units apologised for not having heard of GNVQ and another spoke in dismissive terms, adding that they are "a passing fad which we are not taking too seriously". A university in the south of England said its policy was to interview applicants with GNVQ but confidential papers ask admissions tutors to be extremely cautious when it comes to firm offers.
Some admissions tutors appear ignorant of the demands of GNVQ. Those with knowledge of vocational education realised that the work involved completing a portfolio of evidence and have presented their entry grades accordingly. Some are taking the middle ground and asking for a merit or distinction.
Full details of the survey from Alan Marvell, lecturer in geography and tourism at New College, Helston Road, Park North, Swindon, Wiltshire SN3 2LA.