Labour has pledged a “radical” overhaul university admissions rules to make them fairer for disadvantaged students.
School leavers should apply to uni only after seeing their A-level results, the party has said.
Thousands of students are anxiously waiting to collect their results on Thursday and see if they’ve got the grades they need to go their top choice university.
But the system, which sees pupils apply with predicted results based on past performance and teacher’s predictions, makes it difficult for the brightest students from working-class families to get into top universities. Labour has warned.
Studies have revealed that predicted grades unfairly penalise disadvantaged students and those from minority backgrounds, with black pupils the most likely to be discriminated against.
One report found just 16% of predicted grades were correct.
Labour is calling for “radical action” on higher education admissions, saying they will scrap university offers based on predicted grades and implement a new “fairer” system of post-qualification admissions
The plans would also end the controversial use of unconditional offers.
Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Education, said: “The higher education admissions system isn’t working for students, and radical action is needed to change that.
“Predicted grades are wrong in the vast majority of cases, and disadvantaged students, in particular, are losing out on opportunities on the basis of those inaccurate predictions.
“No one should be left out of our education system just because of their background, yet with grants scrapped and fees tripled, the system is now deeply unfair.
“The move has previously been supported by academics union the UCU and is currently being considered by Universities UK as a potential reform.”
The reform has already been proposed by the union which represents university lecturers and is being considered by UK universities.
A Universities UK spokesperson: “The university admissions system must be fair and transparent, able to serve the needs of a diverse group of applicants from a wide range of backgrounds.
“Universities UK recently launched a review of admissions, involving UCAS, students, and senior representatives from schools, colleges and universities.
“We will be exploring post-qualification admissions as part of this review.
“It will collect evidence on how the current admissions system works, identify the challenges relating to offer making and recommend best practice in the interests of students.”
Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Allowing people to apply after they receive their results would help level the playing field for students, remove the problems associated with unconditional offers and end the chaotic clearing scramble.
“The current system, based on inaccurately predicted results, is failing students and it is time we adopted the type of system used around the rest of the world where university offers are based on actual achievements instead of guesswork.”
David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said: “The Labour Party has recognised weaknesses in the current admissions system which must be addressed and which have concerned colleges, including the increased use of unconditional offers.
“With only 16% of applicants achieving their predicted A-level grades, it is clear that pre-results applications are problematic.”
However, some education bodies have warned caution.
Clare Marchant, chief executive of UCAS, said the proposals could “significantly disadvantage under-represented and disabled students” unless university or school calendars change.
Ms Marchant said: “Young people need their teachers’ support when making application choices, and this isn’t readily available to all at the scale required when schools and colleges are closed during August.
“Once students have a place, they need time to find accommodation, finalise their financial support, and to prepare for their studies.
“Universities and colleges need time for interviews, auditions, and considering contextual information about applicants, and time to put in place support services to help care leavers, first in family, and disabled students, transition into higher education.”
She added: “It’s important to remember that predicted grades are just one part of a student’s application.
“Universities take a holistic view of applicants’ achievements and potential when deciding whether to make an offer.”
A DfE spokesperson said: “Last year there were a record rates of 18 year olds from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university, which is up more than 50 per cent from ten years ago.
“Universities must ensure their admissions practices are fair, to ensure everyone can access higher education, or they will face action. The Office for Students and Universities UK are already undertaking a review of university admissions to look at how well current practices serve students and we urge all groups to support them to see how they can be improved.”