University admissions disappointment

28 Mar 2012

 The news that UCAS will not be going ahead with its proposals for a Post Qualifications Admissions (PQA)  system will not be too surprising to anyone who has seen the reluctance of most university leaders to embrace the change . However there was disappointment from student leaders, who felt an opportunity had been missed.

This decision looks set to end the debate about PQA for many years to come, bringing to an end a discussion that has been going on since the Schwartz report suggested the reform under the last government.

Obstacles to PQA

According to UCAS, the obstacles to PQA were that:

  • different term dates and qualifications' timetables across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland;
  • university initiatives to support disadvantaged applicants could be compromised;
  • it might encourage an undesirable focus on simple grade achievements rather than more rounded assessments of applicants' potential.

Reform of Clearing

Instead, UCAS will press ahead with reforms to the system of Clearing, reforming the Extra service, and improving the on-line application form. There will also be defined offer deadlines to give greater certainty to applicants.

The full report is here: UCAS Admissions Process Review

New study says intervene early

Meanwhile a study from the Institute of Education suggests that widening participation measures that focus on the admissions stage are misdirected.

The study, funded by the Nuffield Foundation, concludes that success is more likely from 'policies which intervene earlier to ensure that those from poorer backgrounds achieve their potential during their school years'. It adds: '“These young people would then be more likely to have the appropriate qualifications to apply to university.'

Its author, Jake Anders, says that teenagers from well-off backgrounds are almost three times as likely to reach university as those from poor families. This new estimate is based on his analysis of the educational paths of 7,860 members of the Longitudinal Study of Young People in England, born in 1989/90.

Anders also examined the backgrounds of students winning places in Russell Group universities, the UK’s most prestigious research-intensive institutions. His research confirms that, even if they reach university, young people from poor backgrounds are much less likely to attend a Russell Group institution than their more affluent peers.

The full report is here:

A solution

An excellent example of the early intervention that is needed is provided by the Villiers Park Educational Trust Scholars' Scheme, which works with able but disadvantaged students from age 14 to ensure that by the time they reach the university application stage they have the qualifications they will need to get into the most competitive universities. However schemes like this are constrained by a lack of government funding, making scale hard to achieve. (I declare an interest as a trustee of the charity).



User Comments

Rebecca Hanson - 28 Mar 2012

The reality of managing change

At the consultations I've been to on PQA all involved have recognised that a coherent change would need to be well managed with a lead time of around 10 years.

I suspect there is not the confidence that this is possible at present.

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