Admissions review to ensure a ‘system which works for all students’

A major review, launched today by the Office for Students (OfS), poses fundamental questions for the future of higher education admissions.

Three university students in a lecture theatre making notes

The OfS is seeking the views of students, staff at universities and colleges, schools and all those with an interest in education, on a range of issues relating to university and college admissions. The review will consider how the admissions system works for all students, whether they are studying full or part-time for an undergraduate or postgraduate degree, whatever their age.

The consultation asks for respondents to consider issues including:

  • the use and accuracy of predicted grades and personal statements in undergraduate admissions
  • the role of contextual information in admissions for students from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • the use of unconditional offers, which have increased significantly in recent years
  • the use of incentives and inducements in the admissions process across undergraduate and postgraduate study, and providers’ approach to marketing their courses
  • the overarching transparency, fairness and effectiveness of the system for all students.

Three future options for reform of the system are set out in full in the consultation. In brief, they comprise:

  • Retaining the current system with reforms: if the system is seen as generally working well, one option would be to consider a series of reforms to improve it further which could have a significant benefit for students. Consideration may be given to how the use of contextual admissions can be increased; whether to retain personal statements and ensure greater transparency around entry requirements and how applications are assessed.
  • Post-qualifications offers for full-time undergraduate admissions: under this option applications would be sent to providers at broadly the same time as they are now. However, offers would only be made after students receive their A-levels (or other equivalent qualification).
  • Post-qualifications applications for full-time undergraduate admissions: various models for this option exist. The OfS sets out one where students might register their interest in particular higher education providers ahead of receiving their results, but wait until they had their results to complete their application.

Respondents are also asked to suggest any other system, or whether a combination of options would best improve the admissions system for full-time undergraduates as well as how the admissions system can be improved more broadly, for all students on all courses. 

The OfS is not proposing a preferred model for the future, recognising that any fundamental changes would require significant cooperation and coordination with a wide range of bodies with an interest in education. Rather, it is using its role as the regulator for higher education in England to help generate debate and discussion about ways in which the admissions system could be made fairer, and help ensure that students from all backgrounds are able to get the most from their studies. The OfS will examine next steps from this autumn.

Commenting, Sir Michael Barber, chair of the OfS, said:

'There is widespread recognition that certain aspects of the current admissions system are not working, and may be especially unfair on students from disadvantaged backgrounds. A review of admissions is also being carried out by Universities UK, and UCAS are exploring reforms to the admissions process. We will look to work closely with them – and everyone with an interest in the system – as we look forensically at changes that can shape our admissions system in a way which is matched to the needs, achievements and potential of students from all backgrounds.

'This is fundamentally an open consultation and a genuine attempt to seek views from as wide a range of respondents as possible. Any changes to how and when students apply and receive offers will be complex. They will require the agreement of policy-makers, universities and colleges, examination boards and schools – and will need to demonstrably be in the interests of future students. We want to use our powers to convene, to consult and to discuss how we can arrive at a system of admissions where the interests of all students are paramount.

'It will be fundamentally important to seek the views of students – past, present and future – on any changes. Their understanding on the benefits and pitfalls of the current system are crucial if we are to build a system which stands the test of time.

'Notwithstanding the terms of this review, the OfS will continue to intervene where we have concerns that aspects of the system do not work in students’ interests. We want to gain a deeper understanding of the use of unconditional offers where students could be pressured into accepting an offer which might not be right for them.

'The review will also consider the use of inappropriate marketing or incentives offered to students at a time when they might be especially vulnerable. Of course, universities and colleges need to market their courses, but they must do so in a way which helps students make a genuinely informed choice about where, what and how they wish to study.'

The OfS will be holding a range of events for students, staff and all those with an interest in the admissions system, in seeking to ensure as wide a range of views as possible are taken into account.

For further information contact Sean Beynon on 0117 905 7676 or [email protected].

Read more about the consultation and how to respond


  1. The Office for Students (OfS) is the independent regulator for higher education in England. Our aim is to ensure that every student, whatever their background, has a fulfilling experience of higher education that enriches their lives and careers.
  2. The OfS has also published a short guide to the consultation, which summarises the key issues and options we are seeking views on.
  3. Universities UK is working to identify the main challenges linked to undergraduate admissions and offer-making practices and propose ways to ensure that admissions work in the best interests of applicants. UCAS are also exploring innovative reforms to the admissions process, that offer tangible benefits to student through increasing transparency and by supporting aspiration.
  4. A review of admissions systems in the other UK nations is beyond the remit of the OfS. However, the OfS acknowledges that admissions systems across the UK are interconnected and the OfS will work with relevant regulatory and funding bodies in the other UK nations in relation to this review.
Published 27 February 2020

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