In a report published today, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) proposes scrapping the current system in which students apply for courses based on predicted grades, writes Graeme Paton at the Telegraph.
Under the reforms, teenagers will sit exams as early as Easter and A-level results will be published at the start of July, instead of mid-August. Applications would also be limited to just two choices instead of the current five. This proposal could be introduced as early as 2016.
Mary Curnock Cook, UCAS chief executive, said the unreliability of predicted grades meant the admissions body now felt "there is a need for change", writes Hannah Richardson at the BBC.
"We see that across three A levels, fewer than 10% of applicants actually have all three predicted correctly. Would those be people who might have made a different choice if they'd known what their outcomes were?"
In a damning conclusion, UCAS also claims that the traditional clearing system, in which students without a place compete for spare courses in late August, is "inefficient, stressful and confusing for applicants".
The National Union of Students has been a longstanding supporter of switching to applying after results, arguing that it is fairer for poorer applicants who might exceed predicted grades, writes Richardson.
NUS vice-president, Usman Ali, warned that the UCAS proposals must not be "dismissed out of hand, particularly by those universities with the most work to do to ensure access is widened for students from disadvantaged backgrounds".
Universities Minister David Willetts said a more efficient system would be "good news for students".
But the Department for Education, responsible for schools, cautioned it would mean "big changes to the timetable for exams and results". It is believed that the proposals could mean A-level exams starting two weeks earlier than at present.
The proposals are expected to be opposed by many schools and colleges because it is feared that it could lead to more mistakes during exam marking as the process has to be speeded up considerably. Top universities are also concerned as it is believed that it could cause chaos as admissions tutors are forced to consider tens of thousands of applications in just a few weeks instead of months.
Consultation into the plans opens today and is due to end in January.