EPC response to the Office for Students (OfS) consultation on the higher education admissions system in England.
In response to both the pending consultation and the uncertainty around this year’s university admissions the EPC is conducting a one-off admissions survey (in addition to our annual temperature check of the health of HE engineering enrolments which will take a light touch this Autumn). Please complete the survey here. You can view all questions here before you begin.
Earlier this year, the OfS launched a review of the current English higher education admissions system, with an emphasis on the interests of undergraduate applicants. The scope included the effectiveness of the current admissions system as well as reform.
The consultation was paused – in response to the coronavirus outbreak – before it really got going, but not before it was heavily criticised for overstepping the mark when it comes to institutional autonomy and the right of individual providers “to determine the criteria for the admission of students and apply those criteria in particular cases” (as per the Higher Education and Research Act).
Meanwhile, despite the OfS not having the power – at that point at least – to require changes to individual institutions’ admissions processes, and the coronavirus pause in the admissions consultation, ministers and the OfS waded in to “protect” the integrity and stability of the English higher education sector by imposing an unconditional offers moratorium and proposing the extension of OfS’s regulatory powers regarding admissions. A new temporary condition on sector stability and integrity was adopted by OfS on 3rd July 2020 but the scope of the condition was narrowed as a result of EPC and others’ lobbying, with only unconditional offers and marketing activity in final scope. The EPC’s concern that OfS would be able to take enforcement action in relation to conduct that predated the consultation was heard, and this additional power conceded.
At the same time, other reform pressures are rife and PQA is undoubtedly back on the agenda.
EPC Admissions Survey
With the triple whammy of curbed international student imports, squeezed budgets and student number controls weighing down on HE engineering portfolios, we know that the HE engineering sector needs to know more…urgently. An engineering admissions profile will give our members an insight into how our sector manages admissions, the benefit of understanding what our peers are doing, and an opportunity to share best practice. The EPC will also play a critical role in carefully evidencing HE engineering’s collective admissions behaviour in order to inform future policy responses in the interests of engineering.
Please be assured, there are no trick questions and we won’t share your information or publish any findings which might identify your university.
There are 9 sections to this survey:
1. About your engineering courses
- About your recruitment and admissions response to Covid-19
- About your response to government policy resulting from Covid-19
- About your admissions infrastructure
- About your undergraduate engineering admissions processes
- About your wider engineering admissions processes
- Evaluating your admissions processes
- The future of admissions
- Get involved
You’ll need to set aside about half an hour to complete the survey in full but you can skip any questions you don’t want to answer. You can also save your partially completed survey to come back to if you are short of time in a single sitting. Please complete whole sections in a sitting where possible. They survey is easiest to complete on a computer or tablet, but can be navigated on a phone if necessary. You can view all questions here before you begin. Please complete the survey here.
Principles of the paused OfS admissions consultation
Notwithstanding that no revised deadline for the OfS admissions consultation has yet been published and, in any event, the impact of Covid-19 may have an urgent and lasting effect on university admissions anyway, a summary of the original admissions review is provided below.
The consultation starts with the overarching principle that “all students, whatever their background, are able to choose between and select courses and providers matched to their needs, achievements and potential” plus a further set of proposed principles for a reliable, fair and inclusive admissions system (revised from the 2004 Schwartz review).
- Applicants, their advisers and universities and colleges should find that the admissions system is transparent and that they have access to full information, presented in a way that enables applicants to make effective choices.
- Applicants should be given the opportunity to demonstrate their achievement and potential with clear evidence. They should know how this evidence will be used by universities and colleges to select students.
- Applicants should be assessed using methods that are reliable, fair and inclusive.
- Applicants, their advisers and universities and colleges should experience a system that is professional in every respect and underpinned by appropriate structures and processes.
- The public should have confidence in the admissions system.
Perceived admissions issues
Beyond these principles, there are a total of ten issues in scope:
- Advertised entry requirements versus actual entry requirements
- The use and accuracy of predicted grades in undergraduate admissions
- The use of assessment methods including personal statements and references, auditions, portfolio, admission tests, and interviews
- The role of contextual offers and contextual admissions
- The use of unconditional offers and “attainment offers”
- The use of offer incentives, inducements, and false marketing claims
- Applications which are made later in the admissions cycle, including the use of the UCAS Clearing system
- The transparency of the admissions process
- Applicants’ experience of the admissions system processes
- Stakeholder’ perceptions of the extent to which the English higher education admissions system is fair and effective.
The last three are predominantly aimed at applicants but within these they pick up on the following institutional activities:
- The use of integrated foundation years
- The use of admissions processes other than UCAS
- The use of admissions processes where more than one university, college, or other organisation is involved, such as under a partnership arrangement or for an apprenticeship
- The use of recruitment agents to recruit UK, EU and international students onto higher education courses
Somewhat off topic, the OfS is also seeking views on the use of higher education provider ‘league tables’.
OfS consultation includes three possible future admissions models:
Existing system with reforms
Possible reforms here include more transparency on entry requirements, getting rid of personal statements and/or references, and limiting the use of unconditional offers and incentives. Slightly more sweeping reforms, including getting shot of predicted grades entirely, and reforming clearing, are also mooted.
Applying to full-time undergraduate admissions, this would be a halfway house between what we have currently – seeing applicants apply before their A levels but receiving offers after results are known. This would likely see some changes to dates for results or the start of the academic year for first years and would mean the end of conditional offers.a
This would see students applying to full time undergraduate courses after their A level results are known, with a speedy response from providers seeing offers made and accepted before the (delayed) start of the academic year. Conditional offers would again disappear.
Although postgraduate and other direct entry applicants are largely ignored through much of the consultation, we are told that they are in scope and asked to consider whether aspects of a PQA might apply across the wider admissions system.