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Abandoning university admissions reform 'another nail in the coffin' for widening access to working class communities

24 February 2022

UCU said abandoning admissions reform was a 'grave error' by the UK government.

The union was responding to the UK government's decision to abandon plans to reform university admissions.

UCU said that, combined with plans by the government to limit access to higher education and place a higher loan burden on students, abandoning admission reform was another backward step that would further shut down access to higher education.

Last year the Department for Education consulted on moving to a post qualification admissions (PQA) system, which UCU has long argued for.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'Abandoning admissions reform is a grave error. Post qualification admissions are essential for ensuring students get into the right university according to their actual achievement not predictions of potential, which are often inaccurate. Ministers cannot claim to be levelling up education if they abandon the admissions reform that would open up access. Alongside the regressive changes to students' ability to access finance this is another nail in the coffin for widening access to universities-and a clear indication this government has little concern for the aspirations of those from working class communities.'

The union has also launched a report that sets out how post qualification admissions reform supports the government's claimed post-16 education priorities.

The report lays out how admissions reform supports government priorities on student choice, T-levels, and graduate outcomes. It also makes a bold case for enrolling year 10s into the UCAS system.

On graduate outcomes

The report argues that PQA can improve graduate outcomes by providing students with more advice and guidance prior to admissions, thereby meaning students are more likely to make a better informed university and course choice. Currently around a third of students are unhappy with either their choice of course, institution, or decision to enter higher education.

On student engagement in university admissions

The report argues that student engagement in the university admissions system needs to begin earlier and that schools should enrol all students who express an interest in higher education into UCAS from year 10 as this would emphasise to students (particularly those from under-represented groups) that higher education choice is something to engage in earlier than year 12.

On PQA and T-levels

The report points to evidence that if T levels replace BTECs, universities will use T-level qualifications as a route for students to enter higher education. The report argues that PQA will enable the university admission system to be sufficiently flexible to allow T-level students to progress into higher education. It says this will be particularly important whilst T-levels are being introduced as grade prediction is likely to be even less accurate than normal.

UCU general secretary Jo Grady also said: 'This report outlines how a post qualification admission system aligns with the UK Government's supposed priorities in post-16 education. Bold change to admissions is needed if the government is serious about commitments to improve student choice and graduate outcomes. Ministers cannot claim to be levelling up education if they abandon the admissions reform that would ensure disadvantaged students can access the courses best suited to their potential.'

Report author Graeme Atherton said: 'This report moves beyond arguments about the accuracy of predicted grades and looks at how admissions reform, including enrolling year 10s into the UCAS system, can raise the bar in supporting students to succeed at higher education. Providing students key advice and guidance about their future is all the more important if the government intends to increase the student debt burden and shut down access to higher education. There is a generational opportunity to reform university admissions. The government must seize it.'

Last updated: 28 February 2022