Schools invited to comment on major review of university admissions

Schools are invited to have their say on how the future of university admissions should look, as the independent regulator for higher education in England launches a major review.

The Office for Students has put forward three future options for reform of the system, which includes keeping it the same but with reforms such as removing personal statements and transparency around entry requirements.

Other options on the table are post-qualification offers for full-time undergraduate admissions, where applications would be sent at a similar time to the current system but offers would only be made after a student received their results. 

The third is post-qualification applications for full-time undergraduate admissions. One version of this could be where students register their interest in particular universities but wait until they’ve had their results to complete their application. 

The OfS acts as a convenor and will take the consultation results to bodies involved in admissions, such as the Department for Education and UCAS, to suggest change, but OfS alone cannot change the whole system.

One of the topics OfS specifically wants to hear from staff within schools and colleges about is “perceived challenges” in predicting grades for students’ applications for university.

Teachers report that they are placed under pressure from senior staff, students and parents to submit what they believe to be overly ambitious predicted grades in order to facilitate applications to a wider choice of providers.

In 2016, a report by Dr Gill Wyness for the University and College Union noted that only 16 per cent of applicants achieved the A-level grade points that they were predicted to achieve, based on their best three A-levels.

Sir Michael Barber, chair of the OfS, said: “‘There is widespread recognition that certain aspects of the current admissions system are not working, and may be especially unfair on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. 

“This is fundamentally an open consultation and a genuine attempt to seek views from as wide a range of respondents as possible. Any changes to how and when students apply and receive offers will be complex. They will require the agreement of policy-makers, universities and colleges, examination boards and schools – and will need to demonstrably be in the interests of future students.  We want to use our powers to convene, to consult and to discuss how we can arrive at a system of admissions where the interests of all students are paramount.”

The review also covers the use of personal statements, how offers are made, including the controversial “conditional unconditional” practise, support for clearing during the summer holidays 

The report says UCAS is also working with schools and colleges to improve the accuracy of predicted grades. 

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ chief executive, said they are “already planning more innovation and reform to broaden students’ choice, raise aspirations, and consider how the process can be even more transparent, flexible, and personalised”.

“Working with an expert group of students, teachers, and admissions staff since last autumn, we’re exploring how the timetable of offer-making could be improved, how using data science could inform grade predictions, and how we can improve transparency on the range of grades that students are accepted with. We look forward to sharing our insights throughout the spring and summer.”

A review of admissions is also being carried out by Universities UK.