Radical proposals to allow students to apply for degree courses after receiving their A-level results were dropped following concerns it would cut sixth-form teaching time and undermine the quality of exam marking.
University leaders also suggested that the move would put too much pressure on admissions tutors by forcing them to consider hundreds of thousands of applications in just a few weeks over the summer.
Today,the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) admitted it was dropping the plan.
In its place, it is proposing alternative changes to the admissions system to make the process more “fair and transparent”.
This includes axing the traditional clearing system in its present form to prevent the current “free for all” in which students rush for spare places on courses that often turn out to be unsuitable. From 2014, it is proposed that a “cooling off period” of up to 48 hours will be introduced between the publication of A-level results and the opening of clearing, with the system being rebranded as the "final application window".
Ucas is also planning the introduction of newly-defined deadlines to enable all universities to make course offers to students and improvements to online application forms.
Last night, university leaders welcomed the move.
Wendy Piatt, director-general of the Russell Group, which represents top research institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge, said: “We are pleased that Ucas has taken on board the widespread concerns about a post-results application system.
“Despite its apparent simplicity such a system would do nothing to improve access or fairness in university admissions, reducing the time for universities to conduct fair, thorough and holistic assessments of candidates.”
But students attacked th Ucas climbdown.
Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students, said: “This is yet another missed opportunity to grasp the nettle and demonstrate a sustained commitment to post-qualification admission, which is a fairer way for students to apply to university."
Under the proposals, Ucas was planning to scrap the current system in which students apply for courses based on predicted grades.
It suggested that A-level exams could be brought forward by several weeks and results could be published at the start of July, instead of mid-August.
This would allow students to apply to university armed with their results throughout the summer.
But in a consultation document, Ucas said: “It appears that the practicalities and challenges of dealing with applications in the proposed timeframe might be insurmountable.
“There seems no doubt that applicants would be less supported by teachers over the summer period than is currently the case.”
The document also said teachers opposed the plan because it would bring forward A-levels – cutting the amount of lesson time in the final year of the sixth-form.
Examiners also warned that the time available for marking “would be tight and place some pressure on the system”.
Mary Curnock Cook, Ucas chief executive, said: “Although many respondents to our consultation felt instinctively that a post-results process should be fairer, we heard many well-articulated concerns from schools, colleges and the higher education sector about the practicalities of implementation and the potential disadvantages for significant groups of applicants.
“However, the challenge remains to secure more accountability and accuracy of predicted grades.”