UCAS have announced that they are attempting to introduce perhaps the most radical change in their application system for fifty years. Whereas the current system relies on students applying for courses with their predicted grades in mid-January, waiting for the decision of the university and then finally receiving their results, the new system will push exams two weeks earlier to allow for students to apply as soon as they have their results over the summer. These changes could be implemented as soon as 2016.

Under the proposed system students will apply in three ‘phases’. Each phase will consist of an application to two universities and if a satisfactory offer is not reached they progress to the next phase. The new system will bring an end to the clearing process, which at times haphazardly scatters applicants to courses across the country.

UCAS are proposing these changes due to issues within the current system. One of these is the reliance on predicted grades, fewer than 10% of which are completely accurate, and although 90% are within a grade, that grade can make all the difference when getting into university. UCAS argues that if applicants know their grades they can make more informed choices about university. The system is intended to be more representative of an applicant’s actual ability rather than their predicted one.

However, the new system already has issues before it’s even been implemented. The Oxbridge application, which relies heavily on interviews and entry exams, is yet to receive a concrete timetable with which to interview applicants over the summer. The new process will also force universities to rush their decisions; a process, which currently takes months, will have to be condensed to a few weeks. Furthermore, students applying for accommodation as well as loans and bursaries will not find out until the summer before the start of term whether or not these applications were successful. This could make the application more stressful for prospective students.

The decision to change the UCAS system has also coincided with the application of 27 universities to lower their fees from £9,000 as of next autumn to £7,500 as well as a 15.1% drop in university applications. It would seem that both UCAS and universities have realised that applicants are weighing up the decision to go to university far more heavily than before. It is also interesting to note that the number of foreign applicants has increased, suggesting that UK applicants particularly are less prone to apply for university when it is so costly. As such, applicants need more encouragement to go to university. For universities this means lower fees, and for UCAS, a change in the system.

Personally, I feel that while the UCAS system is in need of a change, it should not so severely restrict the time for application, but instead should make the system more representative. The proposed system may make the process quite rushed, but it would end the use of inaccurate predicted grades, and the guesswork involved with following them. However, applying for University is a serious matter and requires a large amount of time and consideration; the proposed changes seem to encourage quickly and poorly made decisions.

Overall, it seems that the new system would be more accurate, but hastily so. Whilst allowing applicants to go to the best university available to them, it has led to accusations that this will make universities too grade-orientated. Presently schools and universities are in talks with UCAS on their views of the proposed system changes. The Russell Group of universities have shown no desire to change the status quo and the government has been quoted as saying they have “no appetite” for change, while many head teachers have come out in support of the proposals. UCAS will decide on a response to their views later this year.

Ben James

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  1. February 15, 2012 at 12:17 — Reply

    What is being overlooked here is the wellbeing of students throughout the application process and particularly during their Post-16 exams.

    The last time I heard of the proposals they were going to lead to a shortening of the exam season for A-Levels. I remember having 2 and often 3 exams on the same day, staying at a teacher’s house overnight, being in isolation between exams so we didn’t cheat. I rarely get stressed, but even this knocked out some calm. If exams are earlier and the period is shorter, that means more exams in a shorter space of time, potentially more collisions, and generally more stress for students taking them.

  2. […] Not all of them. Impact Magazine, run by students at the University of Nottingham, published a lead article by Ben James suggesting that PQA would lead to an increase in “quickly and poorly made decisions”. […]

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