Students getting university offers based on predicted grades is “deeply unfair” and would be replaced by a new system under a Labour government, the party has pledged.
It wants people to apply to universities after receiving their A-level or equivalent grade, ahead of results day for millions of teenagers on Thursday.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner said the “vast majority” of predicted grades are wrong and they unfairly penalise people from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds.
The government’s Department for Education says a review into university admissions is already under way to investigate the current practice.
However, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) said Labour’s plan could “significantly disadvantage” disabled students, and those from minority backgrounds.
Laying out the plans, Ms Rayner claimed the higher education admissions system “isn’t working for students, and radical action is needed to change that”.
She said disadvantaged students whose predicted grades turn out wrong were “losing out on opportunities” and that “no one should be left out of our education system because of their background”.
The new system would be in place by the end of a Labour government’s first term in office – a maximum of five years – the MP said.
Ms Rayner added: “We will work with schools, colleges, and universities to design and implement the new system, and continue to develop our plans to make higher education genuinely accessible to all.”
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the plan would help “level the playing field for students” and “end the chaotic clearing scramble” – where students apply to universities if their actual grades do not match their predicted ones.
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “With only 16% of applicants achieving their predicted A-level grades, it is clear that pre-results applications are problematic.”
But the plans were criticised by UCAS – the organisation that currently runs university admissions.
Clare Marchant, its chief executive, said young people need their teachers’ support when applying to university, and would struggle to get it when schools and colleges are closed in the run-up to results day in August.
She added: “Universities and colleges need time for interviews, auditions, and considering contextual information about applicants, and time to put in place support services to help care leavers, first in family, and disabled students, transition into higher education.”
The current system was defended by the Department for Education, who said last year a record rate of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds went to university – up more than 50% from 10 years ago.