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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 August, 2003, 18:29 GMT 19:29 UK
University access shake-up welcomed
Students
The plans could see more working class pupils at university
Head teachers have welcomed the suggestion that sixth-formers should apply to university after getting their A-level results.

A government advisor proposed the idea as fairer and more efficient than the current system of applying before sitting the exams, which relies on predicted results.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "There's no doubt this is the holy grail of university applications. It's the thing that we're all aiming for, because we do believe it to be a lot fairer.

"It will get away from this wretched position where youngsters at present apply for courses some nine months in advance of when they're going to start them.

"And of course very often during that nine months they think, oh my goodness, I wish I'd applied for something else."

It will get away from this wretched position where youngsters at present apply for courses some nine months in advance of when they're going to start
John Dunford, Secondary Heads Association

Education Secretary Charles Clarke has asked officials to investigate how the new system might work, and whether it would involve major upheaval.

Currently, students must apply to university without knowing how good their grades will be and the universities must make their offers in a similar vacuum.

The system has been criticised for a lack of fairness and transparency, particularly in the way better-off pupils, coached and confident, are advantaged over those from poorer backgrounds.

The National Union of Students (NUS) welcomed the proposed changes, saying it would benefit teenagers from lower income families.

'Nightmare'

NUS vice president of education, Chris Weavers, said: "Their aspirations tend to be lower and they don't expect to succeed as highly as they often do within their A-levels.

"This means they apply for universities and colleges below their actual potential.

"Instead of applying to the higher universities, which are perceived as better universities, they actually apply lower."

But some universities have warned it could mean a major re-design of the academic year, to allow sufficient time between results day and students starting at university.

Within three or four weeks you'd have to have people rushing around the country looking at universities, being interviewed, trying to settle themselves in, find accommodation and so on
Professor Ted Wragg
Independent education analyst Ted Wragg, former professor of education at Exeter University, said the proposed system could prove impossible in practical terms.

"The results don't come out until the third week of August.

"Within three or four weeks you'd have to have people rushing around the country looking at universities, if that's what they wanted to do, being interviewed, trying to settle themselves in, find accommodation and so on.

"Plus universities not knowing until the last minute exactly how many students they were going to have.

"I think it would be a nightmare."

'Huge rethink'

Liberal Democrat spokesman David Rendel also questioned how the scheme would work in reality.

"These proposals appear to place too much emphasis on exam results and not enough on the potential of students," he said.

"Although these measures would reduce much of the worry and complications of the clearing system, they would surely require a huge rethink about how university terms are structured.

"Surely it is better to wait until the proposals for reforming 14-19 education have bedded down before we change the university applications process."

The proposal is part of a report by a government taskforce set up to ensure access to university is fair, and that universities try to encourage poorer students to apply.

This year's A-level results come out on Thursday.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Richard Lister
"Revising the current application process will be a challenge"



SEE ALSO:
Ending 'University Blind Date'
14 Jun 03  |  Education
University application figures rise
18 Jul 03  |  Education


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