Higher Education Admission System Reform

The Government is intending to consult on major reforms to the university admissions system. ALLFIE wants Disabled students views to inform our consultation response in the New Year.

ALLFIE knows that the Government is intending to consult on major reforms to the university admissions system.  We want Disabled students views to inform our consultation response expected in the New Year.

Gavin Williamson (Secretary of State for Education) has announced his intentions to change the university admissions system through which students apply for higher education courses based on actual rather than predicted examination results. Such changes to university admissions would not be implemented until 2023/24

Present University Admissions System

In addition to its predecessors, University and College Admissions Service (UCAS) has managed a highly centralised system of full-time undergraduate admissions since 1961.

The United Kingdom is the only major country to base its university admissions system on students’ predicted grades.

  • Students submit their university application form, including personal information and qualifications taken during their full-time level 3 courses.
  • Students’ predicted grades are usually provided as part of the school or further education institution’s reference.
  • Teachers’ predicted grades inform university placement offers.

Why Change the University Admissions System?

The main reason is so that all students can apply for university places based on their actual examination grades. Students will no longer have to rely upon teachers’ predicted grades to secure their chosen university place. Heavily relying on teachers’ predicted grades has placed some groups of students at a disadvantage when applying for highly sought-after university places.

University College London’s Institute of Education found that just 16% of predicted A Level results are correct; only one in six university applicants will achieve the grades they were predicted.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills found black applicants had the lowest predicted grade accuracy, with only 39.1% of predicted grades being accurate, while their white counterparts had the highest, at 53%.

The UK Universities and Sutton Trust found that students from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) and financially disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely than their counterparts to express unfairness with the present university admissions system, especially when racism and classism remains widespread throughout the UK education system. ALLFIE work has demonstrated that the current UK education system is unfair and disadvantages to Disabled students particularly for people with learning difficulties. While ALLFIE doesn’t have disaggregated data our anecdotal information shows that BAME Disabled students and Disabled students from other under-resourced backgrounds are further disadvantaged and unfairly treated through the university admission process.

It cannot be assumed that Disabled students think the present university admissions system is fair. It is unfortunate that neither UCAS, the Sutton Trust nor any UK universities have reported any feedback from Disabled students. During the summer term, we were contacted by Disabled students and parents expressing their concerns over GCSE and A Level predicted grades. We have heard of teachers predicting Disabled students’ grades without taking into account any applied-for or approved reasonable adjustments from examination boards.

The Office for Students (an independent regulator of higher education in England) held a consultation outlining three options for university admission reforms:

Option 1: Retain the existing university admissions system with reforms

Students would continue submitting their university application during the autumn term of their final level 3 course year. Students’ predicted grades combined with national subject-related and aptitude tests, in addition to their personal statement and academic references, could be used to make decisions about students’ offers. The use of national standard tests may give greater transparency in the university admissions system. Such reforms will cause minimum upheaval to the present system, which many students think is fair.

The second and third university admission systems would be based on post-qualification models, which have been proposed by UCAS

Option 2: Post-qualification offers (PQO)

Students would submit their university applications before they sit their level 3 examinations, but offers are not made until after the results of those examinations are released. University applications would be made before the end of the summer term so that education institutions are able to provide student support. The PQO could remove the need for predicted grades and unconditional offers from the system. Making offers on actual grades would reduce the emphasis on the students’ personal statement and academic references, which may facilitate greater transparency in the university admissions system.

Option 3: Post-qualifications applications (PQA)

Students would submit their completed university admissions form including their actual examination results after their release; universities could therefore only consider offering students a university place after such results. Having students be in possession of their examination results would mean they are in a better place to decide on the suitability of selected university and subject courses. Similar to PQO, PQA may promote greater transparency within the university admissions system.

Offering course places based on students’ results and university admission requirements may have unintended consequences where individuals’ personal circumstances may not be considered. A published contextual admissions policy with guiding principles could be used alongside students’ results during a transparent decision-making process.

Whilst the majority of students believe the admission system is fair, there is no evidence that Disabled students are in agreement. UK Universities, UCAS and the Office for Students have not undertaken any analysis of Disabled students’ perceptions of the university admissions system. We have asked all the relevant parties to provide us with specific feedback

If you want to know more about the Office for Students’ University Admissions Reforms, including advantages and disadvantages of the different options, please see their website.

We want to hear from Disabled students and Disabled applicants about your experiences of university admissions

We want to hear from you! We want to hear from recent higher education students and those who are applying this year for a university placement. In the New Year, we would like to organise a Zoom meeting to discuss your experiences and help us to formulate our response to the Department for Education’s consultation.

Please contact Simone Aspis


BIS. (2011). RESEARCH PAPER NUMBER 37: Investigating the Accuracy of Predicted A Level Grades as part of 2009 UCAS Admission Process. Retrieved from

Holt-White, E., Montacute, R., & Cullinane, C. (2020). PQA: Reforming University Admissions. Retrieved from

UCAS. (2020). Maps reforms of higher education admissions. Retrieved from

Universities UK. (2020). Fair Admissions Review. Retrieved from

Wyness, G. (2016). Predicted grades: accuracy and impact. Retrieved from