Predicted grades admissions – fair for all?

HEPI report suggests moving away from predicted grades admissions harmful

A new report released today by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) aims to demonstrate that moving away from the use of predicted grades in university admissions could harm, rather than benefit, fair admissions.

The report – a collection of essays, ‘Where next for university admissions?’ (HEPI Report 136) – examines:

  • the arguments for and against post-qualification admissions
  • the role of contextual admissions
  • comparisons to international systems
  • and the lessons to be learnt from the 2020 A-Level results cycle

Rachel Hewitt, HEPI’s director of policy and advocacy and the editor of the new collection, commented: “… the future of university admissions is more complex than may initially be thought. While there is wide-ranging support for post-qualification admissions from Universities UK, Ucas, school and university leaders and students, whether this should be post-qualification applications, decisions or offers is still up for debate.

“There are also some questions to be asked about what issue a post-qualifications system is trying to address, given the existence and growing strength of the Clearing system, which already allows a ‘post-qualification’ option.

“The report provides a helpful insight on some of the potential unintended consequences in changes to the admissions system. While concerns are often raised about the role that predicted grades play, Dr Mark Corver [founder of DataHE] demonstrates how making offers from exam-awarded, rather than predicted, grades could actually be detrimental to fair admissions.

… the government consultation on changing university admissions remains open and the direction of travel remains uncertain – Rachel Hewitt

Mary Curnock Cook, non-executive director across the education sector and former chief executive of Ucas, wrote: “Wholesale change to a post-result system risks removing much of what is desirable in the current system for the majority of students while providing only unproven benefits (and possibly new risks) for the minority for whom change is thought to be desirable.”

While Dr Mark Corver, founder of DataHE, stated: “The belief that predicted grades harm equality is not supported by the data. The pattern is mixed across under-represented groups, but overall predicted grades are probably more an aid than a hinderance.”

Class of 2020 supports PQA

James Turner, chief executive of Sutton Trust, said: “… [our] recent polling suggests that the Covid generation of young people want to see change, too. Even among the class of 2020, who ended up with the highest grades on record, two-thirds support a move to PQA, not least as their own predictions still diverged from their eventual, largely teacher-assessed, grades. And many from working-class backgrounds say they would have made different choices had they applied to higher education after they knew their results.

“Summer 2020 brought into sharp relief how high stakes admissions decisions are, and how much a place in higher education still means to many. Like anything worth doing, making PQA work is not plain sailing: there are some rough waters ahead. But the prize is potentially worth it, especially for those young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who, in a terrible year, have had the very rawest deal of all.”

The UCU responds

In response to the report, the University and College Union (UCU) today said the current university admissions system is not fit for purpose, as it disadvantages students from less affluent backgrounds. UCU said moving to post-qualification admissions (PQA) is the best way to address the system’s fundamental unfairness.

Those from disadvantaged backgrounds are the least likely to have their grades predicted correctly and this is fundamentally unfair. Moving to a post-qualification admission model will help level the playing field – Jo Grady

UCU general secretary Jo Grady commented: “HEPI’s report risks muddying what is at its core a simple issue – that the current university admissions system is based largely on guesswork and rigged in favour of the most affluent students. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds are the least likely to have their grades predicted correctly and this is fundamentally unfair. Moving to a post-qualification admission model will help level the playing field.

“Now is the time for bold reform which supports applicants to make better informed choices, not more inaction or minor tweaks to the current model. Students have shown during the pandemic that they won’t simply sit back and accept a system they believe to be unfair. Moving to a simpler system of post-qualification admissions, underpinned by better information and advice, is in everyone’s interest.”

Hewitt added: “As we publish this piece, the government consultation on changing university admissions remains open and the direction of travel remains uncertain. I hope, at such a critical moment in the debate, that this report will help to shape and influence what the future of university admissions could look like.”


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