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Using the UCAS tariff in the Performance Indicators

This page explains how entry qualifications were used in the calculation of Performance Indicator benchmarking calculations in 2001/02 to 2003/04.

More detailed information can be found in the HEFCE document: Using entry qualifications in the benchmarks.

Because there are differences in the characteristics of institutions, average values for the whole of the higher education sector are not necessarily helpful when comparing HEIs. Therefore a sector average, or benchmark, is calculated. This is adjusted for each institution to consider some of the factors which contribute to the differences between them. The adjustments take into account subject mix offered, age profile of students and qualifications of students on entry – the latter based upon the tariff score where appropriate.

What is the UCAS tariff?

UCAS introduced the tariff score to take account of Curriculum 2000. It is a points system used to report achievement for entry to higher education in a numerical format.

Points can be aggregated from the different qualifications included in the tariff. There is no ceiling to the number of points which can be accumulated. The tariff is designed to make different types of qualifications comparable and also to enable comparability between students who gain different types of qualifications and results. The qualifications covered are A Levels and AS Levels, Scottish Highers qualifications, Vocational A and AS Levels, and key skills and Scottish core skills.

The total tariff score is the score for all qualifications less any duplicates in subjects taken at different levels. So, for example, a student who studied English at AS and A Level would only have their points from the A Level result calculated in the total tariff as this is the highest qualification.

Note that students with qualifications which were not included in the tariff were grouped according to their qualification type. In addition, students with Vocational A or AS Levels have been grouped separately, not dependent on their tariff score.

Which PI benchmarks use the tariff in their calculation?

All of the benchmarks use total tariff score in their calculation. These are:

  • State school or college participation
  • NS socio-economic class participation
  • Low participation neighbourhoods
  • Non-continuation and projected outcomes
  • Disabled students allowance
  • Employment

How does the change to the tariff affect the benchmarks?

Prior to the introduction of the tariff the PIs used the A Level/Highers and equivalents points scores instead. For example, at A Level, grade A scored 10 points, a grade B scored 8 points and so on. HESA collected data on the best three qualifications obtained by a student. So if a student had gained four A Levels at grade A B C D only the first three would be collected providing a total points score of 24 under the old system. For Highers the best five were taken.

Under this system the highest number of points collected was 30 – equivalent to three A Level grade As.

Under the new tariff system the cap on the number of results is removed. Under the UCAS tariff a student with three grade As at A Level would score 360 points - as would a student with grades A B C D or a student with B B C D. Many students have scores above this value, without necessarily obtaining any grade As. This is due, in part, to the introduction of Curriculum 2000 which has encouraged pupils to study more than three subjects, at least at AS level, and partly because more of their qualifications are now taken into account.

Under both systems, for the purposes of benchmark calculations, students are grouped according to these points. For the old system the upper groups followed the pattern 24-25 points, 26-28 points, 29-30 points. Under the new tariff system the upper groups have been defined as 351-380 points, 381-420, 421-480 and 480 points plus.

This increase in the number of students with large tariff scores has led to these high scoring groups containing students with a wider variety of grade and qualification combinations than the 30 A-level point group did under the old system.

The table below demonstrates this. It shows the percentages of students from state schools and from low participation neighbourhoods (LPN) for selected benchmark groupings under the old and new systems. The values for most of the groups are similar, but for the 30 A-level points / over 480 tariff category (shaded) there is a relatively large difference for the percentage from state schools.

Entry qualification
(Old / New)
State school
State school
A-levels/Highers, no points 89.1 88.3 14.6 15.6
A-levels/Highers, 10 points / 161 to 200 tariff 92.7 93.0 16.4 16.9
A-levels/Highers, 16 points / 261 to 290 tariff 89.2 88.4 13.6 13.9
A-levels/Highers, 24 points / 351 to 380 tariff 82.3 81.4 10.0 10.3
A-levels/Highers, 30 points / over 480 tariff 68.1 76.3 7.1 8.8
GNVQ3 / VCE only 99.4 99.7 18.8 19.9
Foundation or Access course 99.0 98.4 12.0 12.9
All qualifications 86.0 86.8 13.1 13.9

If an institution is highly selective and takes most of its students from this ‘Over 480 tariff points’ category this can have an effect on that HEI's benchmarks, affecting state school in particular. For such institutions, since the introduction of the tariff the benchmarks have increased at a greater rate than their indicators compared to calculation under the old system. Most other institutions are largely unaffected by the change.

The results in this table are taken from tables B5 and B7 in Annex B of the 2003 PIs publication (HEFCE 1003/59) and from tables SP4 and SP6 of the 2004/05 UK Performance Indicators.