School leavers in England could soon receive university offers following their A-level results, after the government announced on Friday that it will review higher education admissions to improve social mobility.
Gavin Williamson, education secretary, said the government would consider post-qualification admissions in a consultation on proposals to “remove the unfairness” in university applications.
The move could lead to radical change to the current university admissions system, in which students are offered places on the basis of predicted grades, with acceptance confirmed after exam results have been released.
Education experts have for years argued that the current admissions process discriminates against students from disadvantaged backgrounds, who are more likely to have lower grades predicted than they eventually achieve.
Data from Ucas, the university admissions service, shows that 79 per cent of 18-year-olds going to university had their grades over-predicted, and 8 per cent under-predicted.
But between 2013 and 2015 almost one-quarter of pupils from low-income households were predicted lower marks than they received, according to the Institute of Education at University College London.
Mr Williamson said the current admissions system was “letting down” bright pupils from more disadvantaged backgrounds. “By using predicted grades it is limiting the aspirations of students before they know what they can achieve,” he said. “We need to radically change a system which breeds low aspiration and unfairness.”
The announcement follows a report earlier on Friday by Universities UK, which represents university vice chancellors, also calling for a system that made offers after exam results were published.
The support from vice chancellors is significant, as the change would mean that already complicated university admissions procedures would need radical change and a much shorter timetable.
But in more “radical” proposals released this week, Ucas said pupils could apply to university after receiving their results and start the academic year in January.
Geoff Barton, the general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, a union, said post-qualification admissions were “obviously better and fairer” and urged the government to consider more radical models, even if they required major changes to the academic year.
“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity and we hope that the government is not too timid,” he said. Post-exam applications, he added, “would put students firmly in the driving seat over the choices they make, and it is important that it is properly considered and not dismissed as being too difficult.”
The government will begin a consultation process “in the coming months”, but said applications for university entry in 2021 would not be affected by any changes.
Professor Quintin McKellar, UUK vice-president and chair of the Fair Admissions Review, said there was a “will across the education sector to ensure that admissions are fair for all”, but added that any changes must be taken forward carefully.