HE Entry Requirements for BTEC and Access to HE Diploma Applicants

Over the last few months here at Linking London we have been mapping full time undergraduate higher education (HE) entry requirements for A-level, Access to HE Diploma and BTEC level 3 applicants in a range of HE subject areas. Our mapping has focused on both 2016 and 2017 entry and concentrated on Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) in London. With the help of Hannah Cooper, Linking London’s Support Officer, we have looked at over a thousand HE course entry requirements. The reasons for conducting this mapping are twofold. Firstly, to provide information on entry requirements to include in the subject specific guides that Linking London’s National Collaborative Outreach (NCO) is producing for our partner staff and learners. Secondly, to undertake a review of HE entry requirements in respect of the clarity of information provided for applicants. The mapping has also raised questions about the fairness of entry requirements for BTEC and Access to HE Diploma applicants in some instances.

Linking London has undertaken work in this area for a number of years. In 2010 Linking London produced a paper entitled Quality of admissions information for applicants to full-time undergraduate study. This paper described an analysis of the quality of entry criteria information contained in a sample of 550 UCAS entry profiles (EPs) belonging to 30 Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) across England. Overall, the findings showed that entry criteria information for non-A level applicants about progression onto level 4 programmes of study was of variable quality. There was little difference in the quality of the information provided by different types of institution suggesting that the issues associated with providing information for potential non-A level applicants is an issue for the whole HE sector.

In comparing the quality of entry requirement information for 2016 and 2017 entry with the findings of the report in 2010, there appears to be an improvement in terms of the clarity and fairness of information for Access and BTEC applicants. Encouragingly, more HEIs appear to be willing to consider BTEC applicants for entry onto their courses. There are several caveats here, in that the original report looked at a geographical spread of institutions (unnamed for the purposes of the paper) and mission groups across England, while our mapping for 2016 and 2017 entry has focused on London HEIs only. We have also used a different methodology. The 2010 paper only used the UCAS website and used five different categories to assess each of the UCAS entry profiles. In our current mapping we have used two sources of information on entry requirements: the UCAS website and individual HE institution websites. Where information appears conflicting, we have deferred to the HE institution’s website. In terms of cataloging the information provided we have used two categories – is the information clear and is the information fair. Clear in terms that the applicant has enough information to make an informed choice (without needing to contact the HEI), and fair in that the entry requirements don’t ask for more of a BTEC or Access to HE Diploma applicant than it does for an A level applicant.

With these caveats in mind and the fact that this work is not yet finalised and will need to be checked thoroughly for errors, there are some tentative conclusions I would like to share with you for consideration.

Our more recent mapping seems to suggest that the clarity of information for Access and BTEC applicants has improved since our original research. The 2010 paper highlighted, for example, that of the 550 UCAS EPs that were reviewed, one in four had no information at all for Access to HE Diploma applicants and one in five had no information for BTEC National applicants. This appears to have improved significantly. When looking at 2017 entry requirements for Fine Art and Design, for example, of the thirteen London universities that were mapped, only one institution had no information at all, in this instance for Access to HE Diploma applicants. This was, in the main, replicated in the other subject areas we have focused on – Business, Computing, Nursing and Midwifery and Psychology.

Where the clarity of entry requirement information could be improved, specifically for BTEC and Access applicants, is in specifying which subjects are acceptable/would be considered (or conversely not accepted).  If we use Psychology as an example, of the twelve HEIs mapped, just two had specified which subjects they would be looking for. Two others mentioned “a related subject”, a term open to interpretation. Information on GCSE entry requirements, specifically whether an HEI will consider equivalences, can also prove difficult to obtain.

I’ve also mentioned in a previous article, that the introduction of the new tariff for Access to HE Diploma applicants has created some challenges in terms of clarity of information; both in the complexity of the new tariff, which has to take into account a large number of possible grade combinations (the tariff table for Access applicants runs to five and a half A4 pages) and where the tariff points asked for don’t map on to any grade combination, i.e. 120 tariff points, the equivalent of three B’s at A-level.

In terms of the fairness in the requirements for applicants from all types of qualification, this is a more complex area. While acknowledging that HEIs are autonomous institutions who are obviously free to set their own entry requirements, our mapping has highlighted a number of examples where it is possible to question the fairness of requirements for students on non-A Level courses. For example, one institution identified in the mapping asks for three As at A level or 144 tariff points, whilst asking BTEC applicants DDM plus two As at A level, or 224 tariff points. An issue for Access to HE Diploma applicants is the number of HEIs asking for 45 credits at distinction and/or merit. This, I feel, doesn’t take into account the developmental nature of the qualification and that the majority of Access students obtain less than this requirement. It also means that if an Access student achieves a pass early in the course, this can rule out a number of HEIs in terms of entry requirements and impact on motivation. Using Computer Science as an example, of the eleven HEIs mapped, four asked for 45 credits at distinction and/or merit (one did not accept Access applicants and one asked for a number without specifying how many). Five HEIs asked for less than 45 credits at distinction and/or merit. 

In response to some of the issues raised from our latest mapping report, Linking London is working closely with our partners at Pearson and OCN London to share these findings. We are also discussing these issues with our partner colleges and higher education institutions at our Access and BTEC Practitioner Group Meetings. Linking London have also produced (with the support of City and Guilds, OCN London and Pearson) a Good Practice guide for Admissions, focussing on Access to HE Diplomas, Advanced Apprenticeships, City and Guilds TechBac and BTEC Extended Diplomas which includes guidelines on how to make a fair and meaningful offer to these applicants. Please contact if you would like a copy.