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UK: Attention turns towards admissions

On 31 October, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) released a document entitled Admissions Process Review Consultation. UCAS is the organisation responsible for managing applications to higher education courses in the UK. The report was commissioned by UCAS in light of evolving applicant profiles and expectations, as well as the new approaches to funding higher education recently introduced in the UK. It is based on six months of analysis of all facets of the UK admissions process, as well as research into admissions systems internationally (in Europe, Canada and Australia). As such, UCAS considers this effort to be one of the most far-reaching reviews of UK college and university admissions in five decades.

Overall, the report notes that there “many benefits” to the UK admissions process as it currently stands. However, three main challenges require attention: 

  • “many applicants are asked to make choices about what and where to study before they are fully ready”; 
  • the system is “complex, lacks transparency for many applicants and is inefficient and cumbersome” for higher education institutions; and 
  • “only the best informed applicants and advisers are able to optimise UCAS applications and there is an undesirable divide between those applicants who receive effective advice and those who do not”.

To address these issues, UCAS suggests revising the system such that the overall “holistic” approach to the evaluation of applicants is preserved, but, where grades play a part, using real student results/grades rather than expected results, as is currently the case. This would imply changes to the admissions timetable, amongst other adjustments, but does not, from UCAS’ perspective, represent drastic reform. Indeed, UCAS argues that the improvements to be gained in the way of fairness, efficiency and transparency far outweigh the challenges of implementation. The proposals are now open for public consultation through 20 January 2012, with these results and proposed next steps to be made available in March 2012. UCAS would ultimately like to see changes phased in, with full implementation for students entering higher education in the autumn of 2016.

More immediate admissions issues are also gaining attention. UCAS reported on 24 October that applications for all nationalities across all courses (both those with a 15 October deadline and those with a 15 January deadline) were down by 9% as compared to this time last year. UK applicants were down by 11.9% overall, and “other EU” applicant numbers were down by 9.3%. Interestingly, non-EU application figures overall stood at +8.8% over one year ago, although with significant variation across countries. Meanwhile, 474 UK colleges have lost their right to admit international students altogether, according to a 2 November announcement by the Home Office. These institutions failed to sign up for a new inspection system put in place earlier this year (see ACA Newsletter – Education Europe, June 2011) as part of new standards for education providers wishing to enroll students who are nationals of countries subject to UK border controls.

UCAS (Admissions Process Review Consultation) UCAS (2012 applicant figures – October) UK Home Office