Prospective university students will have more time to concentrate on making the right choices when the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) implements the smart Convention Card at 50 higher education institutions, writes Daniel Thomas.
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The smartcards should help students by eliminating repetitive form-filling and reducing queues at university conventions.
First piloted last year, the scheme is now being rolled out to 150,000 students and most UK universities are participating. The smartcards are expected to improve efficiency by streamlining data collection. Smartcard specialist ORGA is supplying cards, readers and software integration for the project.
The smartcard assigns each student a unique number which they can type in to the Ucas Web site for a personalised service.
The Convention Card is issued to each person before attending any higher education exhibitions. When they visit a university stand, a student inserts the card into a reader, which accesses and stores their number and date of birth. The reader can store up to 1,000 records and additional information. The data is then transferred automatically to the university's central database, where it can be used for future personalised mailings. Previously, students had to write their names and addresses on sticky labels which were then used to send standard packs from the universities. There was no record of which stalls students visited, or their requirements.
The information stored in the reader is downloaded onto another smartcard. The download card is sent back to the university, where it is put into a reader linked to a PC.
Ucas Card Convention software retrieves it into a database file, which is uploaded to the Ucas Web site. Participating universities can then access data submitted by the student on required grades and preferred subject areas.
This new system enables universities to monitor effectiveness of conventions, to personalise information packs sent out and to track pupils' progress.
Tony Higgins, chief executive of Ucas, says, "The Convention Cards designed are a breakthrough. They will make education conventions more effective. The cards could revolutionise the way universities and colleges keep track of applicants."