Aug 202011

We are now in the middle of the confirmation and clearing process, which is a process by which students check to see if their place is confirmed at the University of their choice, and to cast around looking for alternative places if they are not confirmed. To those not familiar with the process of applying for a University course, the following is a quick overview of the process.

Back around the beginning of the calendar year, A-level students take ‘mock’ exams which give them (and the Universities) an idea of what they might obtain in the final exams. They then use these results to apply for University courses – if they choose to go to University.

What happens then is that the relevant University offers a provisional place to the student dependent on them getting those results.

Once the students get their real A-level results, there is then a frantic rush to :-

  1. Contact the University of their choice to confirm whether their results entitles them to a place on the course they chose. Sometimes if the results were not quite as good as expected, but the University has spare places, the University will confirm their place anyway. If not the student goes onto clearing.
  2. The student looks for a place on a course available through clearing that matches what they want to do, and the results they have obtained. This has to be done quickly because the best places will be snapped up fast – you may have heard that Universities have started to close their clearing phone lines this weekend, but that gives a false impression. The best courses can close for clearing in as little as an hour after clearing starts!
The whole process is very stressful for the University staff involved as the Universities have to hit a target for the courses. Too many students and the University loses money; too few students on a course and a University won’t make as much money as it could do. Plus the process is very expensive.

But more importantly the students themselves are not only being put into an incredibly stressful situation, but during one of the most stressful periods of their lives – when many have obtained results that are poorer than they wished – they are expected to make decisions that will have a significant effect on the rest of their lives. We usually concentrate on students who get poorer results than expected, but what about those with better results ? In theory they could go through clearing to try and find a better course, but in practice this is very hard – a better strategy would be to take a year off and apply with their real results during that year.

That last bit is a clue as to how we could get rid of the whole clearing mess. Students should wait until they have their A-level results and then apply for their University course. The deadline for applying would be around the end of September, at which point Universities could sort through all of the applications and offer confirmed places to those students they wished to teach.

There would have to be a system comparable to the clearing process to sort out courses for the students who weren’t offered a place at their first choice of University, but this could be handled in a much less stressful manner with better results for all involved. At the very least, there would be much more time available to the students needing to hunt down a place.

This would also involve the start of the academic year to be moved to January which would involve its own challenges but as someone involved in the HE sector, I would rather see the pain of changing the academic year than see the current clearing process continue.

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