Will Covid-19 have a transformative impact on student recruitment?

A view from Alan Lees, MD of KCG Audit Limited. 

The past week or so has seen a Government struggling to get a firm grip on how predicted ‘A’ levels (central assessment by schools) were ‘normalised’ using an algorithm which aimed to ensure fairness but appeared to do anything but. After press and social media campaigns the inevitable Government U-turn came as universities and colleges were already in the middle of clearing, causing much gnashing of teeth and complicating even more the clearing and admissions process.

The Covid-19 pandemic has however already caused some commentators to question whether the current student recruitment process (provisional offers on the basis of predicted grades, and confirmation when results are in) should be replaced by a system whereby offers are only made after grades are known and confirmed. Exploring this alternative, a post-qualifications admissions (PQA) system, would be supported by a significant majority of university, college and school leaders. This would create more certainty for both student and university or college and avoid the mad scramble amongst students who don’t get the grades.

Studies also show that students from disadvantaged backgrounds are often predicted to get lower grades, so PQA would help remove the discrimination that is inherent in the current system.

It would however require a collective response to change the system, with schools, universities and colleges working together to develop radical changes to current processes. The review should use the very best of the best examples of PQA in other countries so that the UK can be brought into line. 

Alongside such an initiative, there needs to be a lot more contingency planning, by Government in particular, for the next pandemic or major disruptive event, that might impact on the introduction of a PQA system. It certainly cannot be right to continue to use teacher assessments as back up for a failed system. 

This is an opportunity for the Government to get a grip. And transform how students get into higher education, by creating a fairer approach so that they can make informed choices at the right time.

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