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Careful design needed to make Post-Qualification Offer system work, says Russell Group

A post-qualification offers system could remove the need for predicted grades while still allowing universities to work with students before they apply to university, the @RussellGroup has said today (13 May 2021).

In its response to the Government’s consultation on a post-qualification admission system for higher education the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the UK’s leading universities, has said a post-qualification offers (PQO) system would be the most workable of the two options presented by Government, but only if a number of key issues can be addressed first.

Under this system, students would continue to make university applications before taking exams, with universities and colleges making offers when results are known.

This would allow universities to continue working with and supporting students ahead of their results as they do now – which is particularly important for students from widening participation backgrounds, as well as those with disabilities and mental health conditions.

Making offers after results could also remove reliance on predicted grades and see the end of conditional unconditional offer making.

However, the Russell Group has cautioned that a shift to a new admissions system will require a significant amount of time, effort and financial investment to design and implement effectively and that reform is likely to be challenging for all stakeholders, including schools and students. 

To ensure any new system is fair, workable and transparent to all applicants, the Russell Group is recommending that the Government:

  • Ensures sufficient time between exams, results, offer-making and course start dates to allow for a robust admissions process
  • Builds in flexibility and efficacy to support admissions including additional entrance testing or interviews if needed
  • Continues to protect university autonomy on admissions decisions
  • Fully considers all students, including those from under-represented groups and following non-traditional routes like mature students
  • Ensures the system supports international admissions and aligns with the devolved administrations
  • Boosts resources for information, advice and guidance (IAG) in schools and colleges.

In its response the Russell Group also recommends universities are given more access to better contextual information, including free school meals (FSM) eligibility data, so that universities can identify, target, support and track prospective applicants from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds.

It also warns that any reforms to university admissions must be accompanied by a wider focus on supporting the attainment of students under-represented in higher education; recommending a new national strategy to join up the efforts of universities and schools, colleges, local authorities, charities, and employers, and for this to be co-ordinated through a new Office for Tackling Inequality.

Commenting, Dr Tim Bradshaw, Chief Executive of the Russell Group, said:

“In recent years we have made great strides in improving access to higher education to try and ensure the only thing that decides whether a person goes to university is their desire, determination and potential to succeed.

“Making sure our admissions system is fair and works for everyone is crucial. A wholescale change to admissions will present significant challenges regardless of the approach but, of the options presented by Government, a PQO system – if designed appropriately – could allow universities to balance supporting students with making admissions practices fairer.

“However, if the Government is considering reforms of this scale, we believe now is the time to also consider the bigger picture and address inequality and low attainment across the education system. The UK needs a new, ambitious strategy to support this agenda and join up work by Government, universities, schools, local authorities and others.”

The full Russell Group response to the DfE’s Post-Qualification Admissions Reform Consultation can be found here.

A recent UCAS/Youthsight survey of 13,000 current applicants found that 70 per cent favoured a system that retains the ability for them to submit applications before exams.

To ensure any new admissions system is fair, workable and transparent to all applicants, the Russell Group recommends the DfE considers the following principles to underpin its functionality:

  • Ensuring there is sufficient time between exams, results, offer-making and course start dates to run a robust and comprehensive admissions process without significant delays to the start of term.
  • Building in the flexibility and efficacy to support admissions across the full range of courses and institutions across the sector, including those which require additional testing or interviews.
  • Ensuring that higher education in the UK remains internationally competitive in attracting overseas students, and that the admissions process effectively supports them to join UK universities.
  • Boosting resources for information, advice and guidance (IAG) in schools and colleges to improve the quality of support provided, especially if applications or offers are made outside of term time.
  • Ensuring consideration is given to the transition period between the current system and the new one.
  • Developing any new system in consultation with those in the Devolved Administrations to ensure it functions for institutions across the UK.
  • Continuing to protect university autonomy on admissions decisions.
  • Ensuring the system fully considers all students, including those who do not follow traditional routes into higher education such as mature students and private candidates.

The Russell Group action plan to transform opportunities for disadvantaged and under-represented students, Pathways for Potential: How universities, regulators and Government can tackle educational inequality, can be found here.

Ofqual’s response to the Department for Education’s consultation on Post Qualification Admissions reform 

Post Qualifications Admissions consultation response

Ofqual welcome the government’s consultation on PQA. They understand the wish to improve the current admissions arrangements and stand ready to help to bring this about. They recognise the benefits that could be achieved through PQA.

Ofqual are keen to support the reform and are confident that the qualifications system can play its part in delivering changes that the government wishes to see. However, any changes to the timing of exams, marking and results must be able to be safely delivered, and any resulting new risks must be manageable. As the qualifications regulator in England, it is right that Ofqual set out their considerations of both how PQA might safely be achieved and the risks associated with any change.

Post-qualification admissions in higher education: proposed changes

@EducationGovUK are seeking views on proposed changes to higher education admissions to a system of post-qualification admissions (#PQA): 

This consultation follows the commitment from Government to level up the university admissions system and seeks views on whether to change the current system of higher education admissions and move to a system of post-qualification admissions (PQA).

This document sets out the rationale for reform, whilst seeking views on the current admissions process and sets out potential models for a PQA system, seeking views on delivery.

We will analyse the responses from this consultation carefully – including evidence on the impact on schools, colleges, providers and other organisations – before taking final decisions on whether and how to introduce a PQA system.

This consultation closed at

Consultation description

We are seeking views on proposed changes to the current system of higher education admissions to a system of PQA.

This consultation follows the commitment from the government to level up the university admissions system.

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