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Report paves way for fairer, student centred university admissions

29 April 2021

A report published by UCU and National Education Opportunities Network (NEON) says a move to post-qualifications applications (PQA) is essential in creating a fairer, student centred university admissions system. It also shows how the move could lower excessive workloads for school, college and university staff.

The report responds to a government review which set out two potential models for higher education admissions reform in England: a PQA model and a post-qualifications offer (PQO) model. PQO slightly alters the current admissions system in that students would still apply to university in January on the basis of predicted grades but would then receive offers after their exam results were published. Under PQA, students would only apply to universities after receiving their exam results.

The report says PQA is inherently fairer than PQO as it totally removes unfair predicted grades from the application process, which are incorrect more than 80% of the time.  It also says that student information, advice and guidance need to be at the heart of the new system for admissions reform to be successful.

The joint UCU and NEON report shows it is possible to introduce a PQA model with only relatively small shifts to the timing of the academic year. It says this change could also make the admissions process much more efficient by slashing the number of applications students make. Currently, students complete over 1.5m applications a year to universities they don't end up attending. PQA would dramatically lower the number of applications students make, freeing up school, college and university staff time. 

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: 'After years of campaigning by UCU and others, we are finally on the cusp of tackling the unfairness in university admissions. But too many organisations seem wary of the bold reform that will end the use of unfair predicted grades. This report shows the blight of predicted grades must end if we are to remove the disadvantages students currently face. It also shows the impact of changes to the admissions cycle on universities and staff can be easily overcome, and highlights the benefits to both staff and students that a post-qualifications applications system will bring. The time has come for a truly student centred approach to university admissions, and we must not settle for half measures.'

NEON director Graeme Atherton said: 'A post-qualifications applications system is a gateway reform that can assist in widening access to higher education, improving graduate outcomes and providing the impetus for a long overdue focus on the information, advice and guidance that students receive on their journey to higher education. The report outlines a roadmap to how we build this new system.'

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