The Effectiveness of Post Qualification Applications (PQA) in University Admissions

The Effectiveness of Post Qualification Applications (PQA) in University Admissions

By Magnus Bashaarat, Headmaster of Maida Vale School

Last year in aarticle in The Times about university admissions ‘Record number of students get university places through clearing’ (thetimes.co.uk) should re-open the debate about PQA (post qualification applications) aa more effective way for university admissions to be managed than the current system.

In the 2023 cycle 596,590 18 year olds applied through UCAS for a university place (2023 cycle applicant figures – 25 January deadline | Undergraduate | UCAS). 2019 was the year when the Blair target of 50% of ‘young people’ going to university was passed, but post-COVID this percentage has gone down to 41.5% across the UK, with the figure for England slightly above that at 42.3%.

The figure to set against the number of successful applicants is the number of students who drop out of their degree course early; either in the first week, first term, first year, or any time before the planned conclusion of their undergraduate degree. More worrying is the continuation rate for full-time undergraduates  (Access and participation resources – Findings from the data: sector summary (officeforstudents.org.uk) 2022-23 figures aren’t yet available, but the 2021-22 figures show that there was an 89% continuation rate. This may look like a cause for celebration, but it in effect means that in 2021-22 one in ten undergraduates dropped out of their course. And this percentage is likely to decrease, as in, more undergraduates will have dropped out, in the 2022-23 cycle because of the cost-of-living increase and the general challenge of affordability.

The numbers of students going through clearing, broadly speaking 5% of the total number of applicants, has increased by 15% from 2022. Anticipating this trend many universities drafted in more staff to manage the deluge of phone calls that followed A level results day. It’s madness for a few days, reminiscent of the day that Glastonbury tickets go on sale, but not for long. Mobile phones, apps, websites designed to accept mega-traffic, have all made the process easier for a generation of applicants who are used to managing the entirety of their lives online.

Aapplicant who knows the grades they have achieved, and where exactly that puts them on the UCAS tariff, will make a better-informed choice about university. Rather than submit a set of choices on January 15thas is currently the UCAS deadline, and receive offers based on predicted grades predicated on GCSE results achieved two years earlier in subjects that might bear little relation to the chosen degree course, PQA would give applicants aadditional six months to visit universities and do research on courses. It would also mean that the final sixth months of their Sixth Form year, and the experiences of taking their A levels, would help them understand more fully where their academic strengths and interest lie.

PQA could also usher in the final death of GCSEs. With a set of A level results already in hand, using GCSEs aa guide to predict A level outcomes and suitability for an undergraduate course becomes redundant, and A levels themselves could become better designed to fit with degree course content and methods of study



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