Move offers until after exams, says UCAS

This morning the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service stages a dramatic intervention on admissions.

It feels like a long time ago now, but improving the application and offer system for undergraduate students was in the Conservative manifesto in 2019. Having been told to jump, both Universities and UK and the Office for Students said “how high” by launching reviews, with the latter officially shuttered until at least Autumn 2021 and the UUK one set to appear soon.

But calls for post-qualification admissions intensified during both the early part of the pandemic and over the examnishambles, and this morning UCAS enters the fray by pre-announcing the results of its own review in The Times. It seems two options are under consideration – one where offers are moved to after results, and another that would move the whole application process to after when grades are confirmed, pushing the university term back to January.

If we were in any doubt about UCAS’ preferred option, we’re nudged in a particular direction in an accompanying op-ed. The first option would address issues around predicted grades without shrinking the application window in Year 13 to explore and weigh up choices, as well as representing an opportunity to give “equal weight to non-degree options” by aligning academic and technical results days to create “true parity” – which seems a stretch.

The second option is much less attractive. It would “compromise fairness”, and “squeeze” results and decisions such as finding somewhere to live into a “high speed, high-pressure process” that ultimately would be at the expense of students. It would also create a five month gap that is “fine for anyone with independent wealth or connections” and “put us totally out of sync internationally”. Paid traineeships or a National Citizen Service programme to give young people real-world skills and build character are posited as ways to fill the gap, but it seems unlikely.

We’re reminded that bringing the devolved nations along will be essential to avoid a devolution divide but more importantly told that UCAS will publish full details on the impact of both models in the coming weeks.

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