A major review, launched today by the Office for Students (OfS), poses fundamental questions for the future of higher education admissions.
The OfS is seeking the views of students, staff at universities and colleges, schools and all those with an interest in education, on a range of issues relating to university and college admissions.
The review will consider how the admissions system works for all students, whether they are studying full or part-time for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, whatever their age.
The consultation asks for respondents to consider issues including:
- the use and accuracy of predicted grades and personal statements in undergraduate admissions
- the role of contextual information in admissions for students from disadvantaged backgrounds
- the use of unconditional offers, which have increased significantly in recent years
- the use of incentives and inducements in the admissions process across undergraduate and postgraduate study, and providers’ approach to marketing their courses
- the overarching transparency, fairness and effectiveness of the system for all students.
Three future options for reform of the system are set out in full in the consultation. In brief, they comprise:
- Retaining the current system with reforms: if the system is seen as generally working well, one option would be to consider a series of reforms to improve it further which could have a significant benefit for students. Consideration may be given to how the use of contextual admissions can be increased; whether to retain personal statements and ensure greater transparency around entry requirements and how applications are assessed.
- Post-qualifications offers for full-time undergraduate admissions: under this option applications would be sent to providers at broadly the same time as they are now. However, offers would only be made after students receive their A-levels (or other equivalent qualification).
- Post-qualification applications for full-time undergraduate admissions: various models for this option exist. The OfS sets out one where students might register their interest in particular higher education providers ahead of receiving their results, but wait until they had their results to complete their application.
Respondents are also asked to suggest any other system, or whether a combination of options would best improve the admissions system for full-time undergraduates as well as how the admissions system can be improved more broadly, for all students on all courses.
The OfS is not proposing a preferred model for the future, recognising that any fundamental changes would require significant cooperation and coordination with a wide range of bodies with an interest in education. Rather, it is using its role as the regulator for higher education in England to help generate debate and discussion about ways in which the admissions system could be made fairer, and help ensure that students from all backgrounds are able to get the most from their studies. The OfS will examine next steps from this autumn.
Commenting, 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. A review of admissions is also being carried out by Universities UK, and UCAS are exploring reforms to the admissions process. We will look to work closely with them – and everyone with an interest in the system – as we look forensically at changes that can shape our admissions system in a way which is matched to the needs, achievements and potential of students from all 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.