Liz Truss could move start of the university year to January

·3 min read
Liz Truss, speaking at a hustings event on August 5, is planning a shake-up of the education system - PETER NICHOLLS /REUTERS
Liz Truss, speaking at a hustings event on August 5, is planning a shake-up of the education system - PETER NICHOLLS /REUTERS

The start of the university year could be moved from September to January under Liz Truss's planned shake-up of the education system, The Telegraph can disclose.

Last week, Ms Truss unveiled a policy for all students receiving straight A*s in their A-levels to be automatically invited to an interview at Oxford or Cambridge.

In order to deliver the pledge, the Truss campaign has said it would reform admissions so that students apply following the grading of their A-level exam results.

The system - known as post-qualification admissions (PQA) - would represent a radical overhaul of current arrangements, where universities make offers on the basis of students’ predicted grades.

The Telegraph understands that if Ms Truss becomes prime minister, proposals for the system will be drafted in the first 12 months, with a campaign source confirming that major changes to the academic year would be considered.

Shift to January not without its problems

Meanwhile, a senior source in admissions said: “The open question PQA raises is about the academic year.”

Implementing Ms Truss’s idea would require squeezing interviews into the end of summer - which would create a “very pressured situation” - or undertaking a fundamental redesign of the calendar, they said.

“Either exams have to be earlier, at which point you're actually reducing the amount of learning time in A level, or the academic year has to shift to January.”

However, they said the latter option would pose the problem of England being “totally out of kilter with Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland” and “out of kilter internationally”, which could adversely affect recruitment of foreign students.

The system would take several years to introduce, they added. "The problem Liz has is that while this policy might be eye-catching, practically it couldn't really be implemented before the next election."

The Department for Education considered admissions reform when Gavin Williamson was education secretary, although it was understood to be leaning towards a less radical option where students would apply at the normal time but only receive offers when they had their grades.

Automatic Oxbridge interviews to face opposition

However, the plan was ditched when Nadhim Zahawi replaced Mr Williamson as education secretary.

A source familiar with discussions at the time said PQA was the sort of policy the civil service “try to kill” because it would be “a lot of work” with an uncertain return.

“Gavin Williamson really wanted it. When Nadhim came, they basically said ‘it’s all this work and it’s not your plan’," the source said.

The next education secretary would have to confront the fact that the reform would involve a “lot of time and effort and political capital” at a time when they are likely to be facing challenges in the schools system such as a potential teacher strike over pay.

The source added that Ms Truss’s idea for automatic interviews for Oxbridge would also run into opposition from other universities in the elite Russell Group.

“The rest of the Russell Group will go mental,” they said. “Oxbridge already get the pick of the crop.”