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Last Updated: Friday, 9 September 2005, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
University entry options set out
university students
The report does not propose alterations to term dates
Two ways in which UK higher education applications could be made "fairer" are being set out by the government.

In a move to help poorer students, they involve applications being made after A-level and Highers results are known, rather than using predicted grades.

This is known as post-qualification applications or PQA. One option is to have a "pure PQA" system.

The other would keep conditional offers based on students' records, but reserve some places until results come out.

Devolution issue

The changes could be implemented from 2008.

The existing system has many good features but it could be fairer
Bill Rammell
Higher Education Minister

The report, being published on Friday, has been produced by Sir Alan Wilson, director general for higher education in the Department for Education and Skills.

He worked with officials from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, whose devolved administrations will each decide what arrangements to put in place.

The report is in response to recommendations made by Professor Steven Schwartz in his independent review of admissions, published last year.

He found the current system worked against pupils who were not confident about applying and those who scored higher grades than predicted, who tended to be from lower socio-economic groups.

By the time they know their results, places on the most prestigious university courses tend to have been taken.

Estimates

The admissions service Ucas says only about 45% of students' predicted grades prove to be accurate.

Most are over-estimates - mostly by teachers of students from higher socio-economic groups.

The report says some 9% of predictions prove to be too low, particularly for students from poorer backgrounds.

So Sir Alan suggests everyone might wait for their results, with no places being offered until they are known.

His second, hybrid option would involve having conditional offers as now, though based on students' prior academic records rather than predictions.

But all universities would have to leave a number of places - he suggests 15% - for people to apply for once they knew their results, which would be available at least a week earlier than now.

Clearing, instead of the present scramble, would involve four application rounds.

'Fairer'

England's Higher Education Minister, Bill Rammell, said: "The existing system has many good features but it could be fairer and the existing system is least fair to the poorest students. That has to change."

The present clearing system is often a telephone lottery and the recommended changes will bring some welcome order and fairness
John Dunford
Secondary Heads' Association
In its initial response to the report, the vice-chancellors' group Universities UK said it had acknowledged the benefits of PQA in principle.

But it said for the system to be fair to all applicants, universities must have sufficient time to conduct their admissions processes between the publication of A-level results and the start of the academic year.

The Secondary Heads' Association produced its own report on PQA and said it was gratified to see many of its recommendations in Sir Alan's report.

General secretary John Dunford said the proposed reforms should enable students with better-than-expected results to apply for the most selective universities.

"The present clearing system is often a telephone lottery and the recommended changes will bring some welcome order and fairness to the clearing process," he said.

Shadow higher education minister Stephen O¿Brien said PQA was a sensible step.

"However, this must not become a tool for social engineering," he said.

"The consultation must be genuine and not prejudice against those from middle class backgrounds."




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