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UCAS Admissions Process

Mary Curnock-Cook (UCAS CEO) presented the key findings and conclusions of the Admissions Process Review:

  • Applicants feel they are asked to make choices too early
  • 200,000 choices are cancelled or withdrawn each year, often after a decision has been made, creating inefficiencies in the system
  • 83% of applicants surveyed admitted to making at least one “random”/arbitrary choice, which creates unnecessary work for UCAS and universities
  • Approximately 10,000 students choose to enter Clearing each year despite securing a place at their Firm or Insurance choice (further evidence that they may have made poor choices initially
  • The current system contains a lot of jargon which applicants find confusing – UCAS receives many calls from applicants simply asking them to explain the terms of the system
  • Some applicants feel they can “game” the system (e.g. in the timing of their application, asking universities for special consideration, asking staff to inflate their predicted grades). This creates (at least the illusion of) unfairness in the system
  • There is wide variation in universities’ admissions practice which makes it difficult for applicants to know whether/in what way their application will be considered. Because of the large penalties universities face for over-recruiting, their desire to control their intake in terms of numbers can come at the expense of the applicants’ best interests
  • Insurance offers do not seem to be fulfilling their purpose. Of the 300,000 insurance choices that are made, only 37,000 are actually taken up. This is fewer applicants than secure a place in Clearing
  • Clearing is seen as unfair and a bit of a lottery based on who gets through on the ‘phone first. It can also disadvantage applicants. At the date of the meeting (four weeks after A level results day) 17,000 applicants still had not had their place confirmed by the institutions at which they were holding offers and were thus not even able to enter Clearing
  • The current UCAS system is predominantly designed for those applying pre-qualification so does not meet the needs of those applying after receiving their results


As a results of these findings, UCAS proposes the following changes to the university admissions process:

Phase 1 (to be introduced in the admissions cycle for 2014 entry)

  • Apply, Extra and Clearing to be rebranded as Apply 1, Apply 2 and Apply 3 (to make it clear they are part of the same system and to remove any stigma attached to entering Clearing)
  • A single offer date for both the October and January deadlines (i.e. all applicants that apply by the deadlines will receive all their offers on the same day)



  • “Hard” conditions in offers, i.e. if an applicant does not meet the conditions of their offer they will automatically enter Apply 3, universities will not have any discretion (to remove the element of doubt and allow students more time to look for courses in Apply 3)
  • A more structured approach to Apply 3
  • An increase in the number of mandatory fields in the application to save universities having to chase applicants for information
  • The opportunity for students to provide personal statements tailored to each course
  • Applications that do not meet the minimum entry requirements to be flagged to the applicant so that they are aware of this before they apply
  • UCAS to centralise some checks such as fee status, CRB, health, so that the applicant only has to provide the information once rather than five times
  • A fully paperless system (at the moment all applications are printed and sent to universities)
  • More automation in the matching of results to offers


Phase 2 (to be introduced in the 2016 entry cycle at the earliest)

  • A move to a Post-Qualifications Admissions (PQA) system
  • The Review found that the real divide in successful and non-successful applicants lay in the IAG they were offered. UCAS believe that PQA will bring a simpler and therefore fairer system so no applicant is disadvantaged
  • A level exams to be brought forward so that they begin in the last week of April and last for five weeks
  • A level results to be released in the third or fourth week of June
  • Applications to be prepared in advance of results (perhaps between the end of exams and results day)
  • Once results are received, applicants will have a two-three week period in which to make two parallel choices, followed by further sequential choices if neither of these is successful. It is envisaged that any interviews/auditions/portfolio reviews would also take place during this period
  • Most offers will therefore be unconditional. Some may still be conditional if they are dependent on factors additional to A-level results (e.g. the results of any GCSE re-sits)
  • It is recognised that academics will have to make changes to the way in which they balance their admissions activity with their research activity
  • UCAS is keen that there is seen to be a balance in any new process in who has to “give”
  • The new process will be for applicants wishing to enter university in the same year that they are taking their Level 3 qualifications. There will be a separate system for those who already have results


Consultation process:

  • Consultation on the above proposals will run over a 12 week period between October 2011 and January 2012
  • Proposals resulting from the consultation will be published in February or March 2012



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