AQA and leading UK higher education institutions are today calling for the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) to be more widely recognised.
The call comes from AQA, alongside University of Southampton and University of Leeds – who both include the EPQ in offers to students - to encourage more students to take an EPQ because they help prepare them for the challenges of a degree.
An EPQ is a single piece of work of a student's choosing that demonstrates evidence of planning, preparation and research. The outcome could be a 5,000 word dissertation or something practical that addresses a research question. The EPQ is also offered by other exam boards, including OCR and Edexcel.
Previous projects have included recreating the Northern Lights in a lab, finding out what caused the famous 'wobble' of the Millennium Bridge in London and creating and performing a song for the musical 'Wicked' after the student identified an area that was not fully developed in the play.
Andrew Hall, AQA's Chief Executive, said: "One of the reasons students enjoy the EPQ so much is that it allows them to explore a topic that they are passionate about in greater depth and detail. At the same time, taking an extended project helps to develop research and independent learning skills which are highly valued by both universities and employers."
Although some universities currently allow an EPQ grade to count towards an offer if students don't get the A-levels they want, others don't include it in their initial offer.
Mr Hall said: "Experience tells us that students who complete an EPQ find that it helps to prepare them for university. By fully recognising the EPQ in offers, we think that universities can play a key role in encouraging more students to take up this option, and gain vital skills as a result."
The University of Southampton has chosen to reward students taking the EPQ by making an alternative offer alongside the traditional offer for some subjects. The alternative offer will be one grade reduced from the traditional offer in exchange for an A in the EPQ - for example, asking for the grades ABB instead of AAB.
Dr Emma Thompson from the University of Southampton said:
"Completing an EPQ prepares students perfectly for the rigours of the research-led education they can expect at Russell Group universities like the University of Southampton. The experience provides them with the essential skills for independent academic research, writing, presentation and referencing. The process of completing a research log is especially important as it is the reflection they undertake that fully develops these skills. "
"We have an increasingly compelling evidence base that shows students who excel in the EPQ settle in well to undergraduate study. Our desire to see more students like this in our lecture theatres and seminar rooms is reflected in our admissions policy which sees a number of courses making alternative grade offers on the basis of achieving an A or A* in the EPQ."
The University of Leeds welcomes the research skills, the ability to work and think independently and the tenacity that students with the EPQ bring to the institution. The qualification aligns with the Leeds curriculum with a focus on research based learning preparing them to compete successfully in the employment market.
Dr Abigail Harrison Moore, Head of School and Senior Lecturer, School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, said:
"The EPQ will enhance a student's personal statement and interview performance. It develops vital skills needed for undergraduate study, for example research using primary and secondary sources, critical thinking and writing skills, and demonstrates motivation and commitment. It also gives students a taste of what university study is like so they can decide whether it's right for them. This is why the School of Fine Art now include it in our offers to applicants to the School.
"Recognising the value of the EPQ, the University of Leeds has developed a programme of activities to support students undertaking it, which can be included as part of their 30 hours of study skills development. Our sessions focus on developing research skills, critical thinking, using primary sources effectively, presentation skills and using your EPQ experience when successfully applying to university."