18 August 2022. Well, this was UP2UNI's view in 2011, and we see no evidence that the situation is any different in 2022...
Nobody who’s watched the hoops our students have had to jump through this year to get from Results Day to a clear decision about their university places can have thought it was an edifying spectacle.
Indeed, it never is: but this year many anticipated it would be even worse than usual, given the uncertainties affecting the HE sector and the boost in applicant numbers from those trying to get into the system before tuition fees almost treble.
How much smoother, less stressful, and altogether more civilised it would surely be if applications were made via UCAS only after applicants’ Level 3 results were known. No more agonising over whether one will get the grades or not, no more truly desperately anxious times courtesy of the Clearing process and the inability of some universities to deal promptly with decisions about their applicants’ fates.
Advocates of the Post Qualification Application have been making this case for years, and they certainly have a strong argument, recently joined by no less than UCAS’s chief executive, Mary Curnock Cook.
Arguments against focus mainly on the practical difficulties, principally the need to alter the structures of A level, BTEC, and other Level 3 programmes to move exams (and results) forward, and the not inconsiderable changes that might need to be made in the standard university year. As with all practical changes, they might well cause genuine and large-scale inconvenience as they happen for the people most affected (not least teaching and tutorial staff in both the 14-19 and university sectors), but given enough push and supporting cash (hmm.....) they would eventually bed in and we’d all get used to the new routine. And after all, it’s entirely for the benefit of applicants, isn’t it?
That last little question needs a bit more thought. The question of how to provide IAG for learners looking into HE has never been more pressing than at present, or more challenging. Even with 18 months to play with, many schools and colleges find it hard enough as it is – not just to provide the IAG, but to encourage, coax and cajole all their HE applicants to give it serious attention, in sufficient time. Whatever the form taken by any PQA system, up2uni sees two tricky questions arising from this:
First, if it’s already a scramble between September of Year 1 and August of Year 2 to steer applicants from starting a UCAS application to successfully landing an offer and place, is it really going to be easier to sort out the whole lot within, say, three months after the results come out? Granted, that’s a longer interim period than at present, but would it cope with people being away on holiday, or “phased” by unexpected results? Surely yes, you might say, if everyone’s been doing the right preparatory work beforehand.
But there’s the second question: could we in practice make sure that all our learners have done the groundwork and research they’d need to have under their belts come results day in order for PQA not to be a brain-bursting nightmare for them and for all the practitioners involved in helping them through it? And the short answer is that we could, provided that guidance structures are built in throughout Level 3 courses so that learners can be both sufficiently motivated and sufficiently reminded to keep it at the forefront of their thoughts throughout.
In what places might this be harder than it is in others? Yes, you’ve probably guessed it: where HE is not so familiar a concept to learners, whether because of lack of contact with people, whether in families or neighbourhoods, who’ve been there before, or because of lack of time or resources that their school or college can devote to getting them to give the idea a chance. In other words, PQA will entrench the disadvantage that already exists amongst the WP cohort.
Is up2uni saying that PQA is a bad idea? No – just that the practicalities don’t seem to have caught up with the concept yet. Let’s go for it if it can be refined so that those already disadvantaged by incomplete IAG provision aren’t going to be pushed even further out of the competition as a result.