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University reforms ‘must level playing field’ for disadvantaged students | UK News



The body that manages university admissions says it is “ready to change and challenge” the current system, after reports the government is set to overhaul how pupils apply for courses.

UCAS says disadvantaged students should be “the paramount consideration” in reforms to the admissions process that are expected in the coming months.

It comes after The Guardian reported that the Department for Education was planning changes in England that would allow students to apply for universities after A-level results are published.

CHELTENHAM, ENGLAND - AUGUST 18:  Sam Wathen, an employee in the UCAS clearing house call centre calls for assistance and advice from a supervisor as she answers a student's enquiry as she prepares to assist A-level students ahead of results day on August 18, 2010 in Cheltenham, England. With A-level results published in England and Wales tomorrow, the university admissions service (UCAS) say they are expecting 'even greater' pressure this year during the clearing process - which matches students who have been turned down by their original choices, to other courses. A record 170,000 students will miss out on places at university, which is due to the record number of applicants, up 11.6 percent this year.  (Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images)
UCAS says it is ‘ready to change’

Currently, applications are based on grades that are predicted by teachers before pupils sit their final exams.

But there are concerns that those from disadvantaged backgrounds are frequently given lower predicted grades – causing them to lose out in the admissions process.

Long-discussed changes to the system have frequently stalled over concerns they would be too disruptive and complex.

However some university leaders now believe the drastic impact of COVID-19 on higher education presents an opportunity for a rethink of the process.

The chair of the cross-bench Education Select Committee Robert Halfon says “radical thinking” by government should be welcomed.

“Anything that helps create a level playing field to help disadvantaged pupils climb the higher education ladder of opportunity is a good thing,” said the Conservative MP.

The University of Oxford's Classics department said fewer students are studying ancient Greek and Latin before they come up
The University of Oxford, which has faced criticism for a lack of opportunities for BAME students

Two reviews by the industry group Universities UK and the regulatory body the Office for Students have been taking place into admission reforms, with the latter currently paused because of COVID-19.

It’s understood that four options, modelled as part of these reviews, have been considered in government.

The models, initially created in 2012 by UCAS and updated in recent months, look at moving the university year to January to allow the application process to start after A-level results are published.

Alternatively, the start of term could be delayed until October, with results published earlier than usual – giving an application window in late summer.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has previously given his backing to the reviews, saying: “I am glad the Office for Students is looking at whether it would be in students’ interests to apply for their university place after they have their A-level results.”

View of Heslington Hall, part of the main campus at the University of York. One of the first two people to test positive for coronavirus in the UK is a student at the University of York. PA Photo. Issue date: Saturday February 1, 2020. See PA story HEALTH Coronavirus. Photo credit should read: Anna Gowthorpe/PA Wire
The University of York

Changes to further education are also understood to be in the pipeline as part of a drive to put it on an equal footing to university.

While UCAS has said it is “ready to change”, a spokesperson also added that tackling inequality went “far deeper than when students apply and receive offers”.

“We need to look at the use of data and the wide-spread adoption of contextual admissions to ensure university offer-making recognises the individual circumstances of an applicant,” the spokesperson said.

A Universities UK spokesperson said it was continuing to take evidence from education leaders and students as part of its “Fair Admissions Review” which will report later this year.

The Department for Education said: “We do not comment on leaks and will not be drawn on speculation.”

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