Report reveals diploma uncertainty

Universities are likely to adopt a cautious approach to students applying with diploma qualifications rather than A-levels, a report suggests.

Research undertaken by the 1994 Group, which represents 19 of Britain’s most academic universities, found only 48 per cent of admissions tutors said it was “very likely” they would be admitting diploma-holders from 2010.

The government is hoping to develop the specialist diplomas as an alternative to A-levels and took a step forward last month when agreement was reached on their worth.

Exam and university admission chiefs said the highest-level diplomas would be equivalent to 3.5 A-levels or 420 tariff points, but today’s report reveals concern about taking on entrants from the first cohort of diploma students.

Doubts remain about learning, knowledge and skill levels while some senior managers were worried by the potential cost of students dropping out of the recruitment process.

Professor Steve Smith, chair of the 1994 Group and vice-chancellor of Exeter University, said: “Much remains to be done during 2009 and 2010 to ensure successful implementation of the reforms ‘on the ground’.”

The Conservatives noted the report found the development of the new diplomas had been “less than desirable” and called on the government to listen to its warning.

“We want the diplomas starting this year to succeed. But they cannot work if universities do not value them,” shadow innovation, universities and skills secretary David Willetts said.

“Ministers must try harder to ensure the diplomas are credible for universities and employers alike. Instead of dismissing this warning, ministers should act upon it.”

Schools minister Jim Knight said: “Most of the 1994 Group universities have said they will be in a position to accept students who have taken diplomas onto undergraduate courses from 2010.

“Majority support from this important group of universities is further evidence that support for the diplomas is building in higher education.”