The opposition Labour party has announced proposals to scrap the process for entry to higher education institutions in the UK, replacing the current system based on predicted grades with “post-qualification admissions”.
Students would apply for universities, or other higher education institutions, after receiving the results of their A-levels or other qualifications under the Labour plan, which it said would be more reliable and fairer.
The party claimed that its system, which it would implement if it came to power, would help curb the rise of unconditional offers and end the clearing process for students who did not meet the grades for their place in higher education.
Labour also claimed that the new system would help students from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds. The UK’s university admission system dates back to the early 1960s.
Research by the Sutton Trust, a charity that promotes social mobility, said poorer students were more likely to have their grades under-predicted, which in turn can make them less likely to apply for more select institutions.
Labour also cited a 2011 study by the Institute of Education at University College London, which said that close to one in four disadvantaged students who go on to achieve AAB or higher in A-levels are given predicted grades lower than the final results.
Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, said that the present admissions system for universities “isn’t working” and called for “radical action” to “put students at the heart of the system”.
“Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions,” she said. “No one should be left out of our education system just because of their background, yet with grants scrapped and fees tripled, the system is now deeply unfair.”
Ms Rayner added that a Labour government would work with education institutions to design and implement the new system. The new admissions scheme would be in place by the end of the party’s first term in government.
In response, the Department for Education noted its concern at the rise in unconditional offers but said that the Office for Students, the sector regulator, was best placed to take action.
“Last year there was a record rate of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university, which is up more than 50 per cent from 10 years ago,” a DfE spokesperson said.
“Universities must ensure their admissions practices are fair, to ensure everyone can access higher education, or they will face action. The Office for Students and Universities UK are already undertaking a review of university admissions to look at how well current practices serve students and we urge all groups to support them to see how they can be improved.”
The review by Universities UK, which represents 136 higher education institutions, is expected to report by the middle of next year.
Bill Rammell, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, welcomed Labour’s plan saying it would result in a “much fairer system”. He acknowledged there would be “practical challenges” to a post-qualification system but said it would remove “unpredictability” for students.
“The current system works against students from disadvantaged backgrounds who might not have access to the right level of advice on how to navigate our current complicated system and often find their grades have been under-predicted or over-predicted. The evidence shows it is students from less well performing schools who are most at risk from inaccurate predictions.”