Report Overview

England has a ‘pre-qualification’ system of higher education admissions, where applications and offers are made to young people before exam results are received. While in most cases offers are conditional on achieving a grade target in A Level exams, recent years have seen an exponential growth in ‘unconditional offers’, where the offer of a place is made long before exams are taken, and is not conditional on results.

The government has recently announced a review of the HE admissions system in England and has opened a consultation on the future shape of this system. Should the system stay as it is, move to a Post Qualifications Offers (PQO) model, or move to a Post Qualifications Applications (PQA) model?

This briefing focuses on the global picture where HE admissions systems and specifically HE admissions timetables are concerned, and provides an overview.

You can find our response to the government’s consultation here.

Key Findings
  • The English system is an international outlier. Of 31 countries in the OECD outside the United Kingdom examined in this research, all have post qualification admissions systems, where applications, or offers, or both occur after relevant exams are taken and results are known.
  • Of these 31 countries, 20 have Post Qualification Offers (PQO) systems, and 11 have Post Qualification Application (PQA) systems. The timing of higher education applications, as well as the timing and nature of examination processes used to inform offers vary substantially across countries.
  • While timings have often been offered as an objection to a PQA system, several European countries operate university application timetables similar to that proposed by the PQA model in the consultation.
  • In terms of access to HE amongst those whose parents did not attain tertiary education, it is slightly greater on average across PQO than PQA systems.
  • Retention, in terms of students who are still enrolled at the start of the second year of study, it is slightly higher on average in PQO than PQA systems.
  • Average level of earnings for graduates compared to those with upper secondary qualifications is higher on average in PQA than in PQO systems.