Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Streamlined Exam Entry System to Slim Colleges' Bloated Bills: Fe News

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Streamlined Exam Entry System to Slim Colleges' Bloated Bills: Fe News

Article excerpt

Revamp of ageing registration system could cut down on late fees.

An overhaul of the outdated exam registration system could help to reduce the Pounds 20 million-plus annual bill faced by colleges for late entry fees and exams that students do not end up sitting.

The computer systems used for registration date back to the late 1980s and were designed for GCSEs and A levels. They have been patched over the years to incorporate a wider range of vocational qualifications, but the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents the largest exam boards, acknowledges that the system's complexity means colleges may incur unnecessary charges because exam centres are more likely to make errors.

The Association of Colleges (AoC) calculates that late registration fees cost its members Pounds 20 million a year, almost the entire income of an average-sized college. It is not known how many unnecessary registrations are incurred by colleges failing to withdraw candidates who have switched courses or dropped out, so the full extent of potential savings is likely to be higher.

Rising exam fees have become an increasing concern for colleges. They totalled Pounds 196 million in 2009-10, or 4 per cent of the entire college budget, nearly doubling in size over 10 years.

Problems with late fees or charges for exams that students no longer intend to sit are a particular concern for FE colleges, which are more likely to deal with a wide range of qualifications at different exam boards and where students are more likely to change course.

The JCQ is entering the final stages of developing a single system for all of its exam boards, which should ease the burden on college finances. Called A2C, the project is intended to begin operation in September 2014, with all centres moving to the system over the following year.

"The project will reduce bureaucracy for schools and colleges by modernising the way in which data is exchanged with awarding organisations," said Michael Turner, director of JCQ. "It will harmonise the way in which general and vocational qualifications are processed and deliver improvements in how data is managed."

Colleges usually enrol students in September and have to quickly assess their abilities in order to enter them for exams by a deadline of 21 October. They then have a month to notify the exam boards if students withdraw - many students in urban areas enrol in several colleges in order to try them out before they commit, for instance. …

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