Monday 31 October 2011

A-Level Exams Earlier, University Applications Later?

CHELTENHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Employees in...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
UCAS, the body that administers UK university admissions, has put forward proposals for changes to the admissions system. These recommendations include bringing the A-Level examinations forward and completing most of the university application process when the exam results have been released. This system, UCAS argues, would be fairer and less complex.

Currently, pupils in their final year of school must make their UCAS applications by mid-January. Universities judge each application based on predicted A-Level grades, references from teachers, personal statements and possibly an interview. The universities then award conditional offers, dependent on certain A-Level grades being gained.

Many schools, particularly private schools, give university admissions advice that can maximise the chances of successful entry. UCAS argues that this system makes it unfair for pupils who do not have such a system of support available to them. In short, as the Guardian puts it, the current system favours the rich.
An overhaul would lead to a fairer and more transparent applications process, with the actual grades gained being central to a university’s decision.

An application later in the year would also give pupils more time to discover their real interests, which subjects they are excelling in, and would like to spend further time studying. The downside to such a plan would be the timing. A-Level examinations, the marking, awarding of grades, university applications and decision-making would all need to take place in the summer term. In Northern Ireland and Scotland, this problem would be exacerbated because schools break up for their summer holiday earlier than in England and Wales.

The last Labour government attempted to bring in similar reforms of the universities applications process, without success, largely because of opposition from teaching unions. Although many teachers see some benefits to such a scheme, the amount of teaching time for the A-Level examinations would be shortened. There is also a feeling that there would be simply too much to achieve during the summer term.

What do you think? Would you be happy to delay your university application until after you have received your A-Level results? How do other countries manage university admissions? Would a compulsory gap year be one radical solution to the problem (which they once called National Service), giving pupils further time to think about their futures and time to do something useful in the workplace, while ensuring our students are more mature when entering university? Let us know your thoughts.

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