Post Qualification Admissions – has the time arrived?

Image by Aron Visuals
Why would we ask applicants to make critical decisions about their futures before they know which pathways they’re qualified for? The recurring question of whether the admissions process itself is a barrier to progression to Higher Education in the UK finds itself in the spotlight following the Department for Education’s launch in January of a consultation on Post Qualification Admissions. This is not a new conversation for the sector: in 2011 UCAS launched an Admissions Process Review exploring this issue. Ultimately, while some benefits of a change were recognised the review outcomes captured in the report favoured smaller incremental improvements over radical change which had the potential for unintended consequences. Progress has been made since then – for example UCAS End of Cycle data reports show year on year increases in the number of students from the areas of lowest participation progressing into HE: in 2020 this was 29,020 UK students from POLAR4 Q1 and 1,645 Scottish students from SIMD Q1. New UCAS initiatives such as Clearing Plus and the Historic Grades on Entry tool complement sector initiatives to support these growing numbers of under-represented students to successfully access Higher Education.
In the consultation, these successes are acknowledged but the DfE also draws attention to challenges that remain. Imperfect predicted grades, the risk that this leads to undermatching and the potential impact of this on social mobility is referenced, as is the growing practice of what the consultation describes as “undesirable admissions practices” such as conditional unconditional offers. On this latter point, the consultation notes with concern that “The OfS has also identified that those with A-levels who accept an unconditional offer are more likely to drop out after their first year of study”. Crucially, the consultation asks whether reordering the steps of the admissions process would take away the opportunity for these challenges to persist as barriers. Two high level models are presented to stimulate the discussion. In the first, Post-Qualification Application or “PQA” model, the entire process takes place after exam results are published – a point in time envisaged as shifting from August to July. This, along with a push back of HE enrolment to October, would create a modest extension to the post-results period offering students and Universities and Colleges alike a little more space to conduct the process. The second model, Post Qualification Offers or “PQO”, is very similar but would see students applying before exam results are published. In this model students benefit from easy access to their teachers and advisers who can support them as they whittle down their course choices and complete the application form, but the risks connected to the use of predicted grades to inform decisions, and the of conditional unconditional offers being made, are mitigated by applications being held centrally by UCAS and only being passed onto Universities and Colleges once the exam results have been published.
The impact of such models could be significant. The consultation notes that with both models students are likely to need more guidance over the Summer than at present, and there are question marks over who would provide that guidance. It cannot be assumed that teachers would be able to assist their students over the Summer; nor can it be assumed that without the draw of a University or college offer in hand, students would universally be motivated or in a position to return to school in the summer to engage with such support. The notion of support also extends to on-course support requirements – do these models offer sufficient space for students with particular needs to explain those needs to the Universities and colleges they’re interested in, and do those Universities and colleges have sufficient space to make necessary provision or adjustments? There are more areas to unpick – predicted grades, personal statements, direct applications, the future of clearing, and what the future would look like if the devolved nations opted not to follow DfE’s lead in England, to flag a few. Admissions is a nuanced process reflecting a diverse range of providers offering a diverse range of course to a diverse range of students. We’re projecting applicant numbers to be around 1,000,000 by 2025 so this diversity is likely to grow. Whatever the outcome of the consultation, it is critical that it has been informed by as many voices as possible to ensure that the interests of the students that you work with and for are understood. The consultation closes on May 13th – we strongly encourage you to have your say. Between now and then, we’re facilitating a range of opportunities for stakeholders to come together and explore the impacts of the models and to support us in developing our own response. If you’d like to find out more, please visit

Blog byKate Eccleston - UCAS

Scroll to Top