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Poll shows school, college and university leaders want to reform university admissions

11 August 2020
  • Poll shows that over 80% of school, college and university leaders want to explore allowing students to apply after their results are known*
  • 60% say current university admissions system not fit for purpose
  • Three-fifths say the government isn't doing enough to support fair admissions to higher education

More than four in five of the 128 university, school and college leaders who responded to a survey from UCU want to explore a radical overhaul of the university admissions system, according to a report published by UCU and the National Education Opportunities Network (NEON).

The survey of university vice-chancellors, college principals and secondary school heads found that 60% of respondents felt the current system is not fit for purpose, with 83% supporting the exploration of a post-qualifications admissions (PQA) system, where students would apply to university after their results.

Three out of five leaders also thought that the government does not do enough to support a university fair admissions system.

The report comes ahead of students receiving their A-level results on Thursday. Concerns have already been raised that disadvantaged students will be unfairly penalised this year under the system devised to awards marks.

UCU said it wanted to see students apply to university after they receive their results as that would be fairer for students, eradicate the need for controversial unconditional offers and bring the whole of the UK into line with the rest of the world when it comes to university admissions.

A survey of recent university applicants found that over half (56%) felt universities should only make offers after people receive their results. Support for students applying after they get their results was highest amongst traditionally hard to reach groups such as black and minority ethnic students, and those who were the first in their family to go to university. Previous research shows that the current system is more likely to predict lower grades to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

In June the Guardian reported that the government was modelling how to change to a PQA system after recognising that the current system harms social mobility and disadvantages BAME students.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Thousands of A-level students are receiving their results this week, but the current university admissions system, based on inaccurately predicted results means students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to lose out. Black and minority ethnic students, and those who were the first in their family to go to university want to see it changed. This report shows that many sector leaders agree that the time has come move away from the current system.

'Allowing students to apply after they receive their results would help level the playing field for disadvantaged students, remove the problems associated with unconditional offers and end the chaotic clearing scramble. The government now needs to publish its modelling and work with the education sector to move to a new system.'

NEON director Dr Graeme Atherton said: 'This report shows there is cross-sector support for reform to the university admission system. It is essential that we now develop a system that unites schools, colleges and universities and places the needs of students first. The report presents evidence showing educational leaders support a new system that enables rather than prevents students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education.'

*The results are based on an electronic survey circulated to university vice-chancellors and secondary school head teachers across the United Kingdom and college principals in England, Northern Ireland and Wales. The survey received 128 responses. Of the respondents 43% came from the higher education sector (a higher education institution or higher education in a further education college), 32% came from secondary schools, and 25% came from the further education or sixth form college sector.

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