University admissions ‘not fit for purpose’, say education bosses

A poll of educational leaders, published today by UCU, finds that more than 80% back exploring radical overhaul of the admissions system

A significant number of university vice-chancellors, college principals and secondary school heads think that the current university admissions system is broken, according to a poll published today (August 11).

Sixty percent of the 128 educational leaders who replied to questions from the University and College Union (UCU) declared the current system to be “not fit for purpose”.

In the week that this year’s A-level results are released, 83% also cited a need to examine allowing students to make applications once they are in receipt of their grades.

A move towards post-qualification admissions (PQAs), said UCU general secretary Jo Grady, “would help level the playing field for disadvantaged students, remove the problems associated with unconditional offers and end the chaotic clearing scramble”.

The picture is uniquely complicated in 2020, with researchers finding that the plan to award A-level grades using students’ past academic results will leave pupils from comprehensive schools more likely to be underpredicted.

“The current university admissions system, based on inaccurately predicted results, means students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to lose out,” added Grady.

“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 to move away from the current system. The government now needs to publish its modelling and work with the education sector to move to a new system.”

The study, conducted by UCU’s Angela Nartey and Dr Graeme Atherton of the National Education Opportunities Network, echoes the findings of a January 2019 report from the same pair.

Bringing in PQAs, said UCU, would bring the UK into line with global practice and make for a more equitable process, thanks in no small part to removing any need for unconditional offers.

As we reported in October 2019, the giving of unconditional offers has increased exponentially in recent years, with a deleterious effect on student performance.

The current university admissions system, based on inaccurately predicted results, means students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to lose out – UCU general secretary, Jo Grady

In February of this year, Universities UK found that a majority of applicants to higher education backed moving to a PQA system, with support particularly strong from BAME students and those who were the first in their family to go to university.

A 2018 report by Atherton found that the current system is more likely to predict lower grades to students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

Changing to a PQA system, alongside moving the beginning of the academic year to January, are among measures reportedly being explored by the Department for Education.

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