PQA: What are Post-Qualification Admissions and What to Expect?

Ahead of the Higher Admissions Conference 2021 taking place virtually on 20th April 2021, we explore the PQA model and what to expect.

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In January 2021 the Department for Education (DfE) announced a major consultation on reforms to the admissions system for those entering higher education. In this piece IG Higher Education asks what is a Post-Qualification Admissions (PQA) system, what would it look like and how would the proposed reforms benefit prospective students?

What are Post-Qualification Admissions (PQA)?

A Post-Qualification Admissions (PQA) system would be based around students gaining and accepting offers from higher education institutions after they have received their A level or equivalent results.

A system reform

A new PQA model would represent a major step change from the existing entry system into higher education. Currently students prepare and submit their applications up to a year in advance of completing their A level (or equivalent) qualifications. Students also receive and accept university offers before having received their final qualification results.

A reform would therefore represent a major transformation in the way decision making and offer making is conducted within higher education admissions.

What would be the advantages of reform to a PQA Model?

The DfE identify a PQA system as supporting greater fairness in the system for disadvantaged students. The current system means that students’ offers are largely based on predicted grades and teacher-based assessments. This prediction system can have inaccuracies and disproportionately impact disadvantaged and underrepresented students. The PQA system would therefore support improved fairness by ensuring all students are offered university places on the basis of their achieved grades, rather than predicted grades.

The PQA model would allow embedded disadvantage to be removed from the system, by allowing students to make better decision making and to ensure their choices are informed based on their achievements. For disadvantaged students this could mean they can access and choose universities and courses that they may not have otherwise considered. It would also prevent issues of under-matching and poor outcomes for over-achieving disadvantaged students.

The PQA system will also tackle the growth of conditional unconditional offer making, a practice which can lead to poor student outcomes by encouraging students to enter courses that may not match their needs or interests. Conditional unconditional offers are often linked to poorer academic performance or lower retention. The PQA model would mean there would be no need for conditional unconditional offers, as students could make decisions based on their achieved results.

A PQA system would open up a more transparent and simpler system for students to navigate. Currently many students may struggle understanding the system and may face under-matching where they accept offers which require lower grades than they have achieved. The new model would remove the need for students to work their way through complex offer making and systems such as clearing or adjustment.

The central argument for the PQA model is that it will remove the need for poor admission practices, improve social mobility and give the student the ability to make more informed decision making on the course and institution right for them.

How would a PQA system be implemented?

The DfE are seeking consultation views are two potential models. These models are largely based on the timeline of exams results and the offer making process.

Model 1 would involve A level and equivalent exam results being released in July, with higher education institutions opening in the first week of October. This would allow for a post-qualifications application and admissions period in which offers could be made and accepted. This model would require a change to the exams timetable, with exams and marking being compressed into a shorter time period.

Model 2 would involve maintaining the existing process of conducting applications during term time. However, offers and decision making would not take place until after results day. This model would require less change to the exams timetable and the issuing of results. It would mean that all applications would be on hold until the exam results are announced.

Both models have implications for teachers, providers, examiners, UCAS and students as they make their applications. The consultation running up to May 2021 will seek to gain views on which model would be preferable and how the sector could implement these changes.

Will this be implemented and when?

The DfE has not committed to adopting a PQA model. It is currently conducting a consultation into the system to determine whether the reforms should be delivered, how it would be implemented and what the challenges could be in executing the model.

As such, the next step will be determining the outcomes from the consultation and how the DfE responds. A PQA model would involve major system change and would represent a significant reform for teachers and providers, as a result we may expect for it to take several years for the model to be fully delivered.