In spite of wide support from teachers, students and academic organisations, UCAS has once again abandoned plans to make the university admissions process fairer and more transparent. Bosses had discussed changing the system by 2016 to enable students to apply for university places after receiving their A-level results. This would mean that places would be allocated on the basis of actual achievement rather than teacher predictions, leading to a fairer admissions system.

Chaotic Clearing

Those who do poorly through the academic year but then work extremely hard to improve their performance in time for exams are not rewarded under the current system. Another major flaw is that under the current system universities give students a set of grades they must achieve for a ‘conditional’ offer. If students fail to manage these, they are then forced to enter clearing, a shambolic and complex system that seeks haphazardly to match 50,000 students with leftover places. Even UCAS chief Mary Curnock Cook has admitted that this system must become more “fair and transparent”, a goal that could have been achieved by adopting post-results applications.

Student Support

75% of students in a recent poll were in favour of the new application system, which many felt would be fairer and give greater opportunities to pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. An admissions review under the previous government confirmed this, concluding that the current system favours confident, wealthy applicants with access to specific university application coaching and tutors with enormous application experience.

Universities Reject Proposals

But universities, including the elite Russell Group and the 1994 Group strongly rejected the proposals, claiming that a post-results application system simply would not give them enough time to organise admissions. UCAS eventually agreed, saying that it would simply be unrealistic to try to ‘shoehorn’ a post-results system into the current format of the academic year.

Improvements to Clearing System

The National Union of Students protested against the shelving of the plans, claiming that it was a missed opportunity to make the system fairer and more transparent for all applicants. However it supported plans to streamline and organise the clearing system to lead to a fairer process for those applying under the current system. Having once again rejected the idea of implementing post-results applications, UCAS now seems willing to focus on this new goal instead.