Post A level university applications advised

Written by: Pete Henshaw | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Students should apply to university after they get their A level results, starting their first term of higher education in November.

The change would eliminate unconditional offers and the “chaotic” clearing process, according to a report from the University College Union (UCU).

No other countries use predicted grades to award university places according to UCU research and there are concerns about a trend of increasing unconditional offers by UK universities keen to fill their courses.

Almost a quarter of students applying to university received at least one unconditional offer in 2018 according to UCAS figures, compared to just one per cent five years ago.

However, as few as one in six (16 per cent) A level grades are predicted correctly according to research from the UCL Institute of Education (Predicted grades: accuracy and impact, December 2016). It found that 75 per cent of estimated grades were “over-predicted”, with students failing to reach the mark their teachers predicted, and nine per cent were under-predicted.

The UCU argues that unconditional offers make “a mockery of exams” and put students under enormous pressure to make snap decisions about their future.

The UCU report, which has been co-authored by Professor Graeme Atherton of the National Education Opportunities Network and the UCU’s Angela Nartey, says its proposals are supported by a majority of university admissions staff.

Under the plans, students would apply to university once their results were known, and start the first year of their higher education course in November.

UCU head of policy, Matt Waddup, said: “There is growing support for a shift to a system where students apply to university after they have received their results.

“This report sets out how that could work in practice. Such a move would not only be fairer for students, it would bring the UK into line with the rest of the world and eliminate the use of controversial unconditional offers and the chaotic clearing process.

“The current admissions process based on predicted grades is failing students and needs an urgent overhaul.”
He added: “The time has come for the government to grasp the nettle on this issue and commission an independent review of higher education admissions to take forward the agenda.”

  • Post-qualification application: A student-centred model for higher education admissions in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, UCU, January 2019:
  • Predicted grades: Accuracy and impact, UCU & UCL Institute of Education, December 2016:


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