Traditionally, students apply well in advance of receiving, and indeed of sitting their exams. This leads to conditional offers set by the universities. The applications are based on predicted grades. If these are not met, students – whether they fail to meet or indeed exceed their expectations – go through clearing or adjustment. Some politicians such as the former higher education minister Bill Rammel insist this should be reviewed.
There are surely many reasons for doing so. Students could make informed and realistic choices if they had their results, enabling them to choose from universities that were really available to them, rather than those that might be. It could also lessen the burden of stress for students, who currently pin their hopes on best set expectations.
Some might argue that students can choose to go through clearing, as mentioned already, meaning they apply with real results, and many students do so. In the past, applying through clearing had always had some stigma attached to it, highlighting an underperformance. With an alteration of the system as suggested, this could be eliminated and prove positive for the self-esteem of our young people. Moreover, one has to bear in mind that more than half the predicted grades are proven to be incorrect.
However, the real question is whether UCAS would be able to turn around ALL possible applications within a mere month before the start of first term, including the sorting out of funding and loans, or whether this is just physically impossible. In addition, such change would mean that students would be on their own dealing with their applications, rather than having the help of teachers at hand when compiling personal statements and completing all necessary forms. That could certainly add to stress levels for students. The help from schools choosing and preparing for the future should also surely be noted when thinking about changes. Finally, other services for students to review different options – courses and universities – would then need to be made available.
So whilst the current system may not be the best, changes to it may need careful consideration with all its implications.