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A-level results day: Labour will scrap university offers based on predicted grades

The Independent logo The Independent 13/08/2019 Eleanor Busby

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University offers based on predicted A-level grades would be scrapped under a Labour government.

Labour would introduce a "fairer" system of post-qualification admissions (PQA) where sixth-formers would apply for a degree course only after receiving their A-level results or other qualifications.

The plans for “radical action”, announced ahead of A-level results day on Thursday, hopes to curb the surge in unconditional offers across the higher education sector and bring an end to clearing.

The Labour Party argues that the current system of relying on predicted grades unfairly penalises disadvantaged students and those from minority backgrounds.

Angela Rayner, Labour’s shadow education secretary, said the higher education admissions system “isn’t working” for students and “radical action is needed” to change it.

a young boy holding a hot dog © Provided by Independent Digital News & Media Limited She said: “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.

“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.”

A Labour government would implement a new system of PQA by the end of their first term in office by working with schools, colleges and universities, Ms Rayner added.

The pledge comes after the proportion of university applicants being offered a place on a degree regardless of their exam grades – known as unconditional offers – has risen to nearly two in five.

Meanwhile, a record 80,000 students are expected to take up places on degrees through clearing this year as universities scramble to fill courses with students who pay up to £9,250 a year in fees.

A-level © Press Association A-level Last month, Universities UK launched a review into the admissions system – which will examine whether it would be fairer to move away from a dependency on predicted grades.

The higher education regulator, the Office for Students, will also be conducting an admissions review in England later this year.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, which has long campaigned for a reform of admissions, said a PQA system “would help level the playing field for students, remove the problems associated with unconditional offers and end the chaotic clearing scramble”.

She added: "The current system, based on inaccurately predicted results, is failing students and it is time we adopted the type of system used around the rest of the world where university offers are based on actual achievements instead of guesswork."

Gallery: World's top 50 universities of 2020 (Photo Services)

But Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, warned the reforms would represent a “significant and complex” change to the admissions system.

“It would be extremely difficult to manage the entire applications process in the few weeks between A-level results in mid-August and the beginning of university terms in September or October, and it is likely that we would need to rethink the entire calendar,” Mr Barton said.

Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, the higher education admissions service, said an overhaul posed “timescale challenges”, adding that it could disadvantage underrepresented students if applications have to be made in August when the schools and colleges are closed.

She added: ‘It’s important to remember that predicted grades are just one part of a student’s application. Universities take a holistic view of applicants’ achievements and potential when deciding whether to make an offer.

“Personal statements, references, interviews, and auditions can be as important when assessing if an individual will flourish on a course.”

A Department for Education 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.”

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