The new UCAS Tariff - 10 things university applicants, teachers and parents need to know

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The UCAS Tariff has been changed for students applying now to start higher education courses from next year.

For most people, the new points shouldn’t make any difference to their university applications - so there’s no need to panic says UCAS’ Head of Policy and Qualifications, Margaret Farragher.

Here are her top 10 facts that students and anyone advising them needs to know about the new UCAS Tariff:

The new UCAS Tariff is different to the old one. It’s simply a number that allows universities to compare a student’s basket of qualifications and grades. But only a third of university courses use the Tariff to advertise their entry requirements - most will ask for specific qualifications and grades such as “Two B grades and one C at A level”. But all universities need a number, in the form of the Tariff, for their official data returns.

The Tariff has been changed to make it fairer and include a wider range of qualifications taken by students applying to higher education. The new Tariff comes into effect for HE courses starting in September 2017. So students applying right now, ahead of the main UCAS deadline on January 15 next year, may find it relevant if applying to university courses that refer to Tariff points.

The main thing about the new Tariff is that all the numbers are much lower than the old Tariff as a completely different scale has been used. For example, an A level grade A* gets 56 points in comparison with 140 previously. But the ‘value’ of the most popular qualifications - including academic and vocational - is exactly the same. The new Tariff is just a different set of numbers to describe qualifications and grades.

One key change is that the AS qualification has been repositioned to 40% of an A Level, rather than 50%. This is in line with statements made by the UK qualification regulators. While the decoupled AS no longer counts as a ‘stepping stone’ to a full A level in England, it continues to be the first stage of an A level in Wales and Northern Ireland, contributing 40% of the overall marks. UCAS has to take into account education policy developments across the UK and internationally.

UCAS doesn’t accredit or ‘quality assure’ qualifications – there are regulators who do this. Only Level 3 regulated qualifications can come onto the new Tariff as these are designed to ensure they support progression to higher education. However, not all universities accept all qualifications - it depends on whether a qualification is right for their course.

BTECs and similar vocational qualifications still get the same UCAS Tariff points as A levels because both qualifications are regulated and confirmed as ‘Level 3’. Their purpose is to support students’ progress into higher education. They also meet DfE performance table criteria which require university support.

Just because a qualification is on the Tariff, it doesn’t mean a university or college will accept it for entry to their courses. Equally, if a qualification is not on the Tariff, it may still be accepted by a university if it’s relevant and considered as useful preparation for their course. For example specialist Level 3 qualifications in Accountancy could be considered brilliant preparation for HE courses in Accountancy. So it’s essential to check the course entry requirements and speak to university admissions staff, if necessary.

Students interested in going to a university that uses Tariff points in its entry requirements, can use the UCAS Tariff Calculator which shows how grades translate to UCAS points. The UCAS website has all the information students and schools need to find out more about the new Tariff, with Fact Sheets, FAQs, and the Tariff Tables which list of all the qualifications on the Tariff.

Don’t forget that in the next few years more and more students will be applying to higher education with new qualifications and new combinations of qualifications. We’ve looked at this in our Progression Pathways project, which showed that only two-thirds (63%) of UK 18 year olds applied to higher education last year studying the traditional set of three A levels. Our animations aimed at students explain the different qualifications available and there is a quiz to encourage students to think about which qualifications and progression routes might be best for them.

Universities regularly review their entry requirements to make sure applicants from diverse backgrounds with a range of qualifications understand how these can help them progress to university. Our new Qualification Information Profiles designed by universities and published by UCAS in partnership with exam boards and qualifications regulators, give the important details universities need when deciding whether qualifications are suitable for their HE courses. The new Tariff is just a number.

UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, is a charity and the UK’s shared admissions service for higher education. We manage applications from around 700,000 applicants each year for full-time undergraduate courses at around 380 universities and colleges across the UK.