Labour vows shake-up of university offers in bid to boost poor and minority students

Posted On: 
14th August 2019

Labour has announced plans to overhaul university admissions so that school students apply for courses after they have received their A-Level results.

School students sitting an exam
Credit: 
PA Images

The party said pupils from disadvantaged and ethnic minority backgrounds are “unfairly penalised” by a system in which their grades are often under-predicted.

It cited Government analysis from 2011 which showed that black students were the most likely group to be affected.

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The Sutton Trust found the same problem was faced by poorer students, compared with their wealthier peers, meaning they were less likely to apply for a place at top institutions.

The party said the move will curb the rise in unconditional offers and scrap the “incredibly stressful” clearing process - allowing students to “make better, more accurate decisions”.

It added that a new post-qualification admissions (“PQA”) system would stop England from being an “international outlier”, as the only country with over a million students where a pre-qualifications admissions system is used.

Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner, said a Labour government would introduce its new system by the end of its first term in office.

“The higher education admissions system isn’t working for students, and radical action is needed to change that," she said.

“Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students in particular are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions.

"No one should be left out of our education system just because of their background, yet with grants scrapped and fees tripled, the system is now deeply unfair.   

"We will put students at the heart of the system, making it fairer, more accurate, and a genuine vehicle for social justice."

University and College Union general secretary Jo Grady said: “We have long called for an overhaul of university admissions and welcome Labour’s commitment to reform the system. 

"Allowing people to apply after they receive their results would help level the playing field for students, remove the problems associated with unconditional offers and end the chaotic clearing scramble.

“The current system, based on inaccurately predicted results, is failing students. It is time we adopted the type of system used around the rest of the world where university offers are based on actual achievements instead of guesswork.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: "Last year there were a record rates of 18 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university, which is up more than 50 per cent from ten years ago.

"Universities must ensure their admissions practices are fair, to ensure everyone can access higher education, or they will face action.

"The Office for Students and Universities UK are already undertaking a review of university admissions to look at how well current practices serve students and we urge all groups to support them to see how they can be improved."