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Improving Opportunity for Students, Regardless of Background, Will Happen Regardless of Post-Qualification Admissions

  • 25 February 2022
  • By John Cope

This blog was kindly contributed by John Cope, Executive Director of UCAS.

Going to university or college, or starting an apprenticeship is one of the most exciting, sometimes stressful, and life-changing decisions many people will be make. Making sure these decisions are taken with high-quality careers advice is critical. The process itself also needs to be fair, straightforward, and with choice and quality at its heart.

This is why we welcomed the Government’s consultation on post-qualification admissions – the reform that would see certain parts of the undergraduate application process moving to after results are received.

While there’s still merit to considering post-qualification admissions as an element of reform, in the wake of the long-lasting disruption caused by the pandemic, the Government’s decision to deprioritise it is understandable, especially when other changes could deliver just as significant improvements without as much upheaval. Improving opportunity and outcomes for students, regardless of their background, was never dependent on post-qualification admissions.

Our priority is to constantly improve our services so that students can explore all their options: from university and college to apprenticeships and technical training, in a single location, side-by-side, bringing true parity. So far, 342,000 of the 750,000 students setting up their UCAS account this year have expressed interest in an apprenticeship.

Reform is already happening. Clearing Plus and Decline My Place allow more choices to be kept open for longer. Last year, more than 4,000 disadvantaged students secured a new university or college choice using Clearing Plus, with more than 15,000 UK students using it to secure a place at a more selective institution after getting their results. A form of post-qualification admissions in the system has been expanded and is working well.

There’s more on the horizon, though. We’re working with universities, colleges, students, apprentices, and employers on many other important reforms in the coming years.

Excellent careers advice is vital for young people as they make big decisions. As 92% of students use for guidance, we need to keep investing in it, and to reach students early, as they make GCSE choices that can have ramifications later. This is supported by giving applicants and teachers with local labour market information our Careers Quiz to shape decisions. Leading firms such as Rolls-Royce, Vodafone and Kier Group have come on board as employers profiled within students’ personalised Hub on  

Our huge investment in apprenticeships will bring parity, but we’ve also gone further by including apprenticeships in Clearing Plus marketing for the first time last year. We’re also putting in place the building blocks to integrate the lifelong loan entitlement, given roughly 25 per cent of those who come to us are over 21 and mature learners.

Endorsed by the HE and FE Minister, Michelle Donelan, reform to the Personal Statement is underway. This is important, as while students value it immensely as the part of their application given they can express themselves beyond just grades, there is evidence those with extra support, usually from more privileged backgrounds, can use this part of the application to give themselves an advantage. What a reimagined Personal Statement will look like is to be confirmed, but our priority is providing greater support to people while writing it, and, critically, replacing the current simplistic free text box with a more tailored and meaningful structure, helping students of all backgrounds input the right and relevant information.

We’re also rethinking the Academic Reference to improve the understanding of a student’s background in a more consistent and fair way, so that those with the most knowledgeable and experienced teachers don’t get an unfair advantage. We’re also making it more user-friendly to complete for advisers. Importantly, transparency is being increased through a new Historic Grades on Entry tool for careers advisers that shows the qualifications and grades universities or colleges accept, as well as those advertised. This can help build trust and improve transparency when making choices.

As well as embracing apprenticeships more than ever, UCAS Tariff Points are now awarded to T levels, with 2022 seeing the graduation of the first cohort of T level students. Of the 1,300 students studying this qualification, 475 currently have a live undergraduate application, reflecting the diversity of high quality qualifications now on offer. 

And finally, we’re preparing for the demographic bulge to come down the tracks, along with continued growth in the volume of international students. In 2026, we forecast that there will be one million applicants – double the 2006 figure. Without a huge increase in courses and apprenticeships, admissions will be even more competitive, making careers advice and support even more critical. 

So yes, post-qualification admissions have been deprioritised by the Government, but improving opportunity for students, regardless of background, was never dependent on it. Admissions reform is so much more, and the announcement shouldn’t mean any of us in education and skills slow down the necessary innovation and reform so informed decisions can be taken, whether that’s university, college, or an apprenticeship.

On Thursday 10 March 2022 HEPI and Advance HE are jointly hosting a webinar on equality and diversity. To register your place, please click here.

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