The Guardian is reporting today that UCAS’ plans to introduce post-qualification admissions have been dropped.

This is a terrible mistake. It’s not UCAS’ fault, I think they have done everything they could to push and promote the benefits of this change. The climbdown has happened because Universities, schools and A-level examination boards have chosen to take a reactionary position, arguing that the curent system works just fine!

At the moment student applications to Universities are based on predicted grades made almost a year before they complete their A-Levels (usually before any formal coursework has been submitted, and module results are received). Research by UCAS shows that only 10% of predicted grades are accurate. ONLY 10%! Meaning that 90% of students are making applications based on false information.

What is worse is that the community of prospective students worst affected are those from poorer backgrounds, who are consistently predicted lower grades than they achieve, and tend to ‘under apply’ i.e take a cautious approach to make sure they get in to University, rather than apply for courses at the top end of what they could potentially achieve.

Wendy Piatt, Director of the Russel Group, argues:

“The main losers would be prospective students and, in particular, those from disadvantaged backgrounds, who benefit from special access schemes, summer schools and other outreach activity,” she said.

Hmmm, I suspect most prospective students from disadvantaged backgrounds would prefer to make applications on the basis of a proper and accurate reflection of their A-Level grades rather that “special access schemes”. Especially since its usually the Russell Group that makes a big deal of the need to stick to admission by ability not background and that they shouldn’t have to make special arrangements!

These changes would have required some reorganisation and a lot of work by Universities to shift their admissions processes around, and schools and exam boards would have had to shift their teaching back a few weeks. It would have been worth it. The gains in terms of transparency and clarity for applicants would have made a significant difference.



2 responses »

  1. jcwcox says:

    Couldn’t agree more Derphel. I sense this is resistance to a seismic yet necessary change in admittance culture as well as the timings of academic involvement with the process of vetting possible applicants. Rejecting such a process would have large cost implications however I agree with you; any system that relies on data that is wrong in the large majority of cases is a faulty system.

    I won’t go in to how completely unrealistic Wendy Piatt’s expectations and perspectives of real life are as her quote adequately illustrates that. However I would like to point out the apparent underlying premise that any faulty admissions via the existing system or access restriction seems to be blameless in her view, acceptable or worse yet, hinting that those of a lower economic background are somehow working and achieving less across the board. Why else would she mention extra curricular academic activity, instead of addressing the real issue that the academic ability is there, but poorly gauged and nurtured under the current faulty system.

  2. David Morris says:

    Wow. I remember this being discussed years ago, back when I was a sabbatical officer. I remember going to an education conference and noting that more than one or two academics were unhappy with the idea of PQA, even though I thought (and still think) that it’s a perfectly sensible idea.

    As you say, predicted grades don’t exactly help with accuracy.

    I’m disappointed that the plans have been dropped. Were there specific members of the the Russell Group and particular exam boards that made a lot of noise about this, or was it all of them?

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