A-levels are not the only route to university, says Ucas

A-levels are not the only route to university, with a range of alternative qualifications securing a degree place, says the admissions service, Ucas.

Ucas urges parents and teachers to be more aware of other options, as rising numbers of students apply to university without the traditional three A-levels.

Ucas figures show more UK students are taking alternative qualifications, such as BTecs, alone or alongside A-levels.

In 2015, 15% of 18-year-old applicants took up a BTec, up from 11% in 2011.

New statistics published by Ucas also show that more than a quarter (26%) of all students from England accepted on to degree courses last year held at least one BTec, compared with 14% in 2008.
However, the study shows A-levels are still the most popular and successful route into university, with just under two-thirds (63%) of UK 18-year-olds applying for degree courses last year studying for three A-levels.

In a foreword to the report, Ucas chief Mary Curnock Cook said there had been a shift in the types of qualifications with which many youngsters applied to university, with a significant minority applying with “newer and less traditional qualifications or through less straightforward routes”.

“It has become clear to Ucas that the opportunities and challenges of this change are not yet well understood by learners, parents, teachers or providers,” she warns.

In England, reforms have included the introduction of Tech levels, as well as the move to separate AS-levels from A-levels to form a stand-alone qualification, the report says.

In Scotland, about 25%-30% of students are now studying for the Higher National Certificate (HNC) and Higher National Diploma (HND) qualifications, which come with a guarantee that students can go on to study for a full degree if they want to.

Ucas sets out a series of recommendations for schools and universities, including calling for clearer higher education entry requirements and building partnerships between universities and schools and colleges to develop an understanding of the different qualifications and what they can lead on to.
Prof Les Ebdon, director of Fair Access to Higher Education, said he was very pleased that Ucas was highlighting the issue.

“I join Ucas in encouraging universities and colleges to look at what more they could do to support these learners, because non-traditional qualifications are an important route into higher education for disadvantaged students.”

“Universities and colleges will soon be preparing their access agreements for 2017-18, and they will want to consider how the changing qualifications landscape affects how they plan to support disadvantaged students as they move into and through higher education.”

James Kewin, deputy chief executive of the Sixth Form Colleges Association, said: “Study programmes that combine BTec and A-level qualifications are becoming increasingly common and have proved to be a highly effective way of helping young people to progress to higher education and employment.
Overall, we think the take-up of applied general qualifications and the new Tech levels is likely to increase as schools and colleges adapt to the introduction of the new-style A-levels.”