Gavin Williamson has announced an overhaul of university admissions as he says the current system “breeds low aspiration and unfairness”.
The Telegraph revealed earlier this week that the new system could see students offered places after A-level results day, meaning universities would no longer have to rely on teachers’ predicted grades.
Ministers believe that moving to a “post-qualification” admissions system would benefit youngsters from poor backgrounds who are more likely to be under-predicted. It would also remove the need for unconditional offers which are thought to skew students’ choices.
“We have an admissions system that was designed in the 1960s when the number of people going to university was in the low single figures, compared to the 50pc of youngsters going to university today,” Mr Williamson told The Telegraph.
“I don’t believe the current university admission system works for students and it certainly doesn’t work for those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
“Over the last 10 years, we have started to see the emergence of sharp practise – trying to bribe students with laptops and cash back offers in order to choose certain universities.”
He added that students are getting “sold short” in the sense that they could get a place at a far more prestigious institution than the ones they accept a place at due to the “aggressive way” that unconditional offers are handed out.
Officials at the Department for Education (DfE) believe that bright students from deprived backgrounds are put at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier peers under the current system since they are more likely to have their grades under-predicted.
The Government cited Ucas data from last year which showed that 79 per cent of school-leavers had their A-levels over-predicted while just eight per cent had theirs under-predicted.
The DfE also pointed to research from University College London’s Institute of Education which found that almost a quarter of high-ability applicants from lower-income households had their results under-predicted between 2013 and 2015.
Mr Williamson said: “We should celebrate the fact that we are seeing record numbers of disadvantaged students going to university, but the current admissions system is letting down the brightest pupils from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.
“By using predicted grades it is limiting the aspirations of students before they know what they can achieve. We need to radically change a system which breeds low aspiration and unfairness.”
The Government’s announcement comes after vice-Chancellors and Ucas, the university admissions service, signalled that they would be prepared to back fundamental changes to the admissions system.
Headteachers also welcomed the reforms, saying that moving to a post-qualifications admissions model would be a “better and fairer” system for students.
Teachers have long complained that pupils who receive unconditional offers – meaning they are guaranteed a place at university irrespective of their A-level grades – take their “foot off the pedal” for the rest of their time at school.
The Government will launch a consultation on its proposals for admissions reform in the “coming months”, adding that any changes will not affect university applications for 2021.