A to Z of admissions

The Office for Students is reviewing the higher education admissions system in England and wants to hear your views.

Female student sat at a table with laptop looking into the distance

From acting or classical literature to physiotherapy or aeronautical engineering – there are hundreds of subjects and countless reasons to go to university or college. Perhaps it’s your first time in higher education. Or maybe you already have a degree but want to do postgraduate study. Or change careers. You might want to study full-time, part-time, as part of your job, or through distance or online learning. Maybe you’re from the EU or somewhere else in the world, and you want to study in England.

Whoever you are, whatever you want to study and however you want to study it, you will need to submit an application.  

Last week we launched a major review of the higher education admissions system in England. We want university and college applicants to tell us about their experiences. We also want to hear from schools and others who support applicants, and from universities and colleges about how they assess applications.

The principles

We’re asking for views on a proposed set of principles for reliable, fair and inclusive admissions with the overarching principle that all students, whatever their background, should be able to choose between and select courses and universities or colleges matched to their needs, achievement or potential.

Your starter for ten…

We have also identified ten issues for discussion which span the application process. These include:

  • the use of predicted A-level grades
  • how personal statements, interviews and auditions are used to assess applications
  • offer-making practices such as unconditional offers and ‘contextual’ offers made to applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • the use of incentives to encourage applicants to accept offers
  • the UCAS ‘Clearing’ system.

We don’t want to limit responses – if there are other issues you would like to raise, then please do so.  

All change please?

We also want you to suggest any changes to the admissions system that you think might make it better for applicants. To start that debate, we’ve mapped out some possible future options. These range from reforming aspects of the current system, to more wholesale changes so that applicants only receive offers, or perhaps don’t even apply, until after they have received their A-level (or equivalent) results.  

Tell us what you think. Blue-sky thinking is welcome here!

Why is the OfS undertaking this review, and why now? 

The OfS does not ‘own’ the admissions system and we are not proposing any specific way forward. As an independent regulator, we are well-placed to bring together university applicants, schools, universities and colleges and other stakeholders from across the education system to generate debate. We may not take a neutral position in relation to all of the issues we have identified. For example, we have previously published Insight briefs on both unconditional offers and the use of contextual admissions. But we’re taking an open-minded stance in this review; we want to gather as wide a range of perspectives as possible.

We will of course have regard to each of our general duties when deciding what actions we might take in the future, following the review. These include a requirement to have regard to the need to protect institutional autonomy. ‘Institutional autonomy’ includes the freedom for universities and colleges to determine the criteria for the admission of students for their institution. We will need to balance this requirement with the interests of students and others.

How you can get involved

First and foremost, we urge anyone with an interest to respond to the consultation. There are slightly different questions depending on whether you are an applicant or student, working at a university or college, or have another interest. You do not have to answer every question and can pick one or more issues where you want to have your say. We will also be running a number of small round table events. We want to have focused discussions and obtain a representative sample of views from across the education sector and so attendance at these events may be by-invitation. There will be a webinar in April (keep an eye on our events pages). You might also want to consider holding your own discussions within your school, university, student union or other organisation and putting together a collective response.

What next?

In the autumn, we will publish an analysis of responses to the consultation which will include the discussions from our engagement events as well as written responses. Our report will also set out our views about any need for future changes. Enacting changes may fall to organisations other than the OfS and are likely to require extensive collaboration across the UK education system, not just in England.

So whether you want to study accountancy or zoology, or are a zoologist who now wants to be an accountant, please take this opportunity to have your say.

Find out more with our short guide to the admissions review


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Published 06 March 2020

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