Ucas challenges Labour admissions shake-up

Under Labour's plan, students will apply to higher education after receiving their A-level results in a bid to reduce inequality and ‘conditional unconditional’ offers

Ucas has challenged Labour’s plan to reform university admissions with a post-qualification system.

Under the plan announced today, students will apply to higher education after receiving their A-level results, instead of applying with predicted grades.

The current system, Labour said, “unfairly penalises disadvantaged students and those from minority backgrounds”.

Clare Marchant, Ucas chief executive, responded: “While a post-results admissions service has a natural appeal, the UK-wide consultation UCAS ran in 2012 showed that, if introduced wholesale within the current timetables, it would be likely to significantly disadvantage underrepresented and disabled students, unless secondary and/or university calendars changed.”

Marchant said students need support from teachers when making applications and time to secure financial support and prepare for higher education, and this would be harder to provide in a post-qualification admissions (PQA) system.

Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, said: “Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions.

“A Labour government will deliver the reform that is needed, implementing a new system of post-qualification admissions by the end of our first term in office. We will put students at the heart of the system, making it fairer, more accurate, and a genuine vehicle for social justice.”

PQA are used in 30 countries including Germany, Singapore and the USA.


Read more: Julie Kelly: Clearing a way for a better admissions process


Marchant said that 78% of applicants receive their first choice of university or college and clearing already provides students a post-qualification route into higher education. Last year, student satisfaction with Ucas increased to 92%, Marchant added.

“We’re working with students to extend flexibility and choice – for example, this year we have made it easier for them to change their minds and take advantage of new opportunities during the admissions cycle. Our admissions service protects students, enabling them to exercise their consumer rights, supporting fair admissions for all to UK higher education,” she said.

Research by Dr Gill Wyness, from UCL’s Institute of Education, found that nearly one in four disadvantaged students who go on to achieve AAB or better at A-level have predicted grades lower than their final results. The research from 2016 found that predicted grades were only entirely accurate in 16% of cases and that the majority of cases results were over-predicted.

Labour says its plans will stop the rise in unconditional offers and end the clearing process which “can be an incredibly stressful and worrying time for students”. Ucas countered this claim and said 87% of applicants were satisfied with clearing.

Welcoming the decision, UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “We have long called for an overhaul of university admissions and welcome Labour’s commitment to reform the system. Allowing people to apply after they receive their results would help level the playing field for students, remove the problems associated with unconditional offers and end the chaotic clearing scramble.”

A Universities UK spokesperson said: “The university admissions system must be fair and transparent, able to serve the needs of a diverse group of applicants from a wide range of backgrounds.

Universities UK recently launched a review of admissions, involving UCAS, students, and senior representatives from schools, colleges and universities. We will be exploring post-qualification admissions as part of this review. It will collect evidence on how the current admissions system works, identify the challenges relating to offer making and recommend best practice in the interests of students.”


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