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Post Qualification Admissions (PQA): Has the time for change finally arrived?. Ian McGarry Admissions Officer [email protected] A switch to admissions decisions based on outcomes – as opposed to predictions based on GCSE grades and AS results

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post qualification admissions pqa has the time for change finally arrived
Post Qualification Admissions (PQA): Has the time for change finally arrived?

Ian McGarry

Admissions Officer

[email protected]

pqa an introduction
A switch to admissions decisions based on outcomes – as opposed to predictions based on GCSE grades and AS results

Restricts choices made before results are received

Holistic decisions - 55% of predictions prove inaccurate

- only 9% were under-predictions

PQA: An introduction

“In what other area of life would anyone seek any kind of position by saying they did not possess the required qualifications…but they would have them soon enough…promise!” Patrick Burns (BBC) February 2011

a sense of d j vu

A sense of Déjà vu?

Dearing (1997) National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education

Tomlinson (2002) A-level standards

Schwartz (2004) Fair Admissions to Higher Education

Little disagreement that the current system is ‘inherently unfair’ so why has nothing changed?

pqa new impetus
Higher Education White Paper

- expect ‘an expression of ////ministerial interest’

PQA: New Impetus

“This is something that has been put in the ‘too-difficult-to-handle box’ for a very long time.”

““…probably the biggest single reform we can do in the qualifications arena.”

David Willetts Universities Minister

“ Instead of speculative applications based on possible A-level grades everyone is dealing with how (a pupil) performs."

Mary Curnock-Cook Chief Executive UCAS

admissions process review
Fit for Purpose? It’s not changed significantly since introduction

In 1963: 80,003 applications with a 45.7% acceptance rate

  • In 2010: 688,310 applicants with a 69.6% acceptance rate
  • On average, over 20 transactions are undertaken by an admissions office to result in one successful applicant

Admissions Process Review

Are applicants using their choices wisely?

Can better technology ‘speed up’ exam marking?

  • PQA is just one aspect of the review
  • Ends September 2011 – consultations will follow
pqa a recent history

PQA: A recent history

  • Schwartz (2004): 5 Principles for Fair Admissions
  • Transparency
  • Selection based on achievements and potential
  • Reliable and valid assessment methods
  • Minimal barriers to applicants
  • Professional and underpinned by appropriate structures
admissions decisions

Admissions Decisions

  • The three key decision-making moments
  • Predicted grades
  • Prior attainment – unit grades
  • GCSE results – early sitters
  • Personal statement
  • UCAS reference
  • Pre-entry tests
  • Contextual information - including extenuating circumstances
a potted history
A potted history…

Tomlinson (2002) suggested university year starts in January

- Volunteering, internships beforehand

Post Schwartz:

Sir Alan Wilson (2005): Improving the Higher Education Applications Process

63% of consultation replies from Higher Education sector!

Two options presented:

No offers before results published

Students submit ‘expressions of interest’ beforehand

Interviews & open days

A quota system

15% of places reserved after results

Would also allow for those who change their minds

what we got was adjustment
“A political ‘sop’ invented by vice-chancellors”

Association of School and College Leaders

What we got was Adjustment

“..watered down proposals…a missed opportunity” NUS

The Adjustment Period

A 5 day window of opportunity to ‘trade-up’ - for those candidates who meet and exceed their offer-conditions


329 accepted applicants

(Approx. 70% of which have conditional offers)


successfully used Adjustment


481,854 accepted applicants

(Approx.70% of which have conditional offers)


successfully used Adjustment

universities view
Universities view:

Impossible to process in August, within current timeframes

A rushed system – a likely rise in attrition?

Knock-on for accommodation, registration

Non A-level entrants

International students

Removes flexibility at confirmation

We do not want a mechanistic process!

can this be challenged
Can this be challenged?
  • Admissions tutors make more offers than they have places
  • Educated guesses – insurance choices
  • Fear of over-recruiting
  • - £4,000 fines for every additional student they take on above quota in 2011/12
  • Centralised vs devolved admissions
  • No need for ‘confirmation’ - second stage of vetting
  • 5 choices maximum per applicant
  • – 80% may never materialise
schools and colleges view
Schools and Colleges view:

Impossible to move exams within current timeframes

A-level syllabus already squeezed into 5 terms – a change would leave less time to iron out mistakes

Exams move forward

One reform to many at the current time

Inflexibility of school terms – but not in Derbyshire!

university of warwick research
Deems the current system as ‘unfair and inefficient’

Pupils who did less well at GCSE less likely to get an offer, even if A-level marks are equal being equal

State schools (generally) under-predict – but does this imply that it is the middle-class children in upwardly- mobile areas more likely to have grades over-predicted by teachers?

University of Warwick: Research

BIS/Sutton Trust 5 year research study:

Current system ‘favours well-drilled applicants’

- late developers miss out

- December applicants accounted for 30% of all university applications but only 21% of those receive at least one offer

US-based SAT is a poorer predictor of degree results than A-levels or GCSEs and does not identify ‘potential’

fairness is the driver
“Fairness” is the driver

Academic attainment the key to a university place, but:

  • Only 42% with x3 A grades were actually predicted
  • Only 39% of predicted grades proved reliable for students from the lowest socio-economic groups - compared to 51% of students from professional backgrounds
  • Removes uncertainty/anxiety for the applicant

Unleashing Aspiration: The Final Report of the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions

  • Independent Schools Council (2010)
  • Half of all A-levels graded A or A* - 27% across both sectors
  • 20% awarded an A* - 8% across both sectors