Universities may get rid of predicted grade offers - here's why

Monday, 16th November 2020, 4:54 pm
Updated Monday, 16th November 2020, 4:54 pm

Pupils in England could be given university places based on their actual exam results, instead of relying on their predicted grades to secure them offers.

The government announced proposals to change the current university admissions system to make the process fairer for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

A post-qualifications admissions (PQA) system could be rolled out across the UK in the next two to three years, according to Universities UK (UUK).

University leaders recommended the policy change after an 18-month review of the current system was undertaken.

The report comes after the chaos caused when summer exams were cancelled across the country in the wake of Covid, and teacher estimations were replaced by grades decided by an algorithm.

A widespread outcry prompted the government to ditch the algorithm and give students their original predicted grades, but many students still lost out on their chosen university places.

What is the current predicted grades system, and what would happen if it were to be scrapped?

Here’s everything you need to know.

What is the current predicted grades system?

Currently, sixth form students in England apply to their chosen institutions and courses in January through university admissions site Ucas.

They are offered conditional places depending on what grades they have been predicted by their teachers.

Students then sit their A-level exams in late spring.

If the predicted exam results are met in August, students receive an unconditional offer from their chosen university which they will be able to accept or reject.

Students who don’t make their predicted grades will often not be accepted into university and will instead have to join clearing and find another course.

This can be a very stressful and emotionally draining time for the students who miss out on their predicted exam results.

In 2019, nearly four out of five 18-year-olds in the UK had their grades over-predicted, according to Ucas data.

The government said disadvantaged students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted, meaning they end up applying for courses below their ability.

Education secretary Gavin Williamson said: “The current admissions system is letting down the brightest pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds. By using predicted grades it is limiting the aspirations of students before they know what they can achieve.

“We need to radically change a system which breeds low aspiration and unfairness. That is why we are exploring how best to transform the admission process to one which can propel young people into the most promising opportunities for them within higher education.

“It has been a challenging time for the education sector, but Covid-19 will not stop this government from levelling the playing field and empowering students to have the very best opportunities to succeed.”

What could the change of system mean?

The long-awaited policy change could make the university application process fairer for candidates from lower socioeconomic backgrounds by reducing reliance on predicted grades.

Under the proposed system, students in England would have longer to make their university choices and offers would be made once universities received actual A-level results in August.

Institutions would have a one-week window before “offer day”, and students would then have a week afterwards to respond to any offers made. Unsuccessful applicants would still face the clearing process.

UUK’s own report on the matter raised concerns about a switch to a PQA system, saying it could cause disruption to school timetables and international university competitiveness.

It said changing the system could also be challenging for courses that are very selective as it could be difficult to arrange interviews, and there could be an increase in admissions tests.

A PQA system could also mean that fewer teachers would be available over the summer to support students with university decisions, according to the UUK report.

It could also give applicants less time to respond to offers before their courses begin.

Ucas proposed another option in which applications would not be made until after results day, with university courses then beginning in January.

However, UUK rejected this model because of the level of disruption it would involve, including on international admissions.

UUK said it will speak to universities, schools and the government to further test whether a PQA system could work.