Admissions reform must not leave students marooned without proper careers support

13 May 2021

Reform to the university admissions system should only take place if there is a commitment from the UK government to enhance investment in careers advice for applicants to boost student choice, says Universities UK (UUK) in its response published today to the UK government's consultation on Post-Qualifications Admissions (PQA).

Universities UK has today reaffirmed its support for recommendations made by last year by the Fair Admissions Review, carried out by school, college, university and UCAS leaders, which found a move to a form of 'post-qualifications offers' could build greater levels of transparency and confidence in the system, take away the reliance on predicted grades, and ultimately be fairer for students.

Universities UK believes that, under any new system, universities should offer places to students after exam results are known, but it is vital that student choice is protected and enhanced through any reform process.

However, Universities UK has identified shortcomings with both the approaches proposed by the UK government – please see summary below – and has set eight tests against which to assess potential admissions reform.

Universities UK believes Model 1 as proposed in the government consultation – Post-Qualifications Applications – is unworkable, but even Model 2 – Post-Qualifications Offers (PQO) – would require fundamental adjustments, in line with the Fair Admissions Review's preferred PQO model to improve on where things are currently. This includes a need for the release of a certain amount of applicant information ahead of results being published to allow for the scheduling of interviews, tests and auditions.

Professor Quintin McKellar CBE, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire, Universities UK's Vice-President for England and Northern Ireland, and Chair of the Fair Admissions Review, said:

"Student polling carried out for the Fair Admissions Review highlighted the importance of high-quality careers advice to applicants during their course decision making. All applicants, not just those from more privileged backgrounds, should be properly supported at such an important time in their lives.

"We believe the government is heading in the right direction in its consultation, but we need to get the detail right so we can truly improve fairness and transparency for students.

"Everyone involved in the education system – teachers, students, universities, colleges, and schools – should work together with the UK government to carefully take forward admissions reform."

UUK CONSULTATION RESPONSE SUMMARY:

UUK's response aligns with its Fair Admissions Review's recommendation on PQA, in that:

UUK considers Model 1 (Post Qualification Applications) to be unworkable. While it has the potential to increase fairness, for example, in that it would end the reliance on predicted grades, it would represent an unmanageable overhaul to admissions timetabling, creating an unacceptably small window during which applications, offers and confirmation must be undertaken which would not result in an improved outcome for students. It would also place huge pressure on students who require Disabled Students' Allowance (DSA), health assessment, a Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check, student finance, or accommodation. It would also disrupt secondary education timetabling, exam sitting and exam marking. As already concluded by the Fair Admissions Review, the feasibility of this model could be improved if the start of the university academic year were postponed until January. However, even this would create two significant issues. Firstly, it would leave many disadvantaged students without access to proper information, advice and guidance during a critical phase of the application process over the summer/autumn. Secondly, it could affect the UK university sector's international competitiveness compared to other sought-after destinations among international applicants.

UUK considers Model 2 (Post Qualification Offers) to be preferable to Model 1, although it would require some fundamental adjustments (in line with the Fair Admissions Review's preferred PQO model) to improve fairness and transparency for students. This includes allowing for the release of a certain amount of applicant information which would allow for the scheduling of interviews etc, and allow for early rejections where deemed necessary and where clearly in the student's interest. It would also help to retain the relationships that build between applicants and universities ahead of enrolment. However, the implementation of PQO must not be rushed, and would need to come with a set of eight 'tests' to be satisfied in order for it to truly result in a fairer system for students compared to what exists currently. This includes:

1. Sufficient flexibility in the system to ensure that it works across all four nations and for all types of higher education provider (including specialist institutions), while protecting institutional autonomy;

2. Enhanced government investment in careers advice in the form of targeted, structured information, advice and guidance (IAG) before, during and after the application process;

3. Guidance on what will replace formal, predicted grades, supported by evidence on the applicability and reliability of different aspects of prior attainment;

4. An approach which ensures that the system does not disadvantage mature applicants who already have their grades, as well as international students;

5. Co-ordination with relevant bodies, including Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs), to safeguard timely recruitment, as well as efficient confirmation of DSA and student finance payments;

6. Sufficient time in the cycle to prevent any disruption to widening access and contextual offer making strategies, and the early release of Free School Meals data to enhance these processes;

7. Allowing around 5 choices for applicants in order not to limit disadvantaged student choice and levels of aspiration;

8. Reforming the personal statement part of the application process so that it is better structured, made shorter and more direct, and accompanied by clear guidelines to acknowledge individuals' mitigating/extenuating circumstances.

UUK will also take forward the Fair Admissions Review's recommendation on the development of a sector-owned admissions code of practice, which would ensure that admissions continues to work in the student interest throughout any PQA reform process.

Notes to editors

Universities UK is the collective voice of 140 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to create the conditions for UK universities to be the best in the world; maximising their positive impact locally, nationally and globally. Universities UK acts on behalf of universities, represented by their heads of institution. Visit: www.universitiesuk.ac.uk

Our team

Steven Jefferies

Steven Jefferies

Head of Media
Universities UK

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Media Officer
Universities UK

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Clara Plackett

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Universities UK

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