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American educators may look at students with mobile phones glued to their ears as a nuisance.

But British educators apparently take a different view. In fact, they are lobbying to give high school seniors such phones linked to the Internet—for free.

The University and Colleges Admissions Service, which coordinates the admissions process for all 336 colleges and universities in the United Kingdom, is negotiating with telephone companies to provide mobile phones for "6th formers"—the British equivalent of 12th graders—so they can track their postsecondary applications online.

The idea is not as farfetched as it seems, says Ted Wragg, an education professor at the University of Exeter.

Using the admissions service's central application system, an estimated 300,000 British students annually apply to colleges and universities between October and December of the last year of secondary school. But the acceptance offers they get are contingent on the results of exams taken in June.

The trouble is that those exam grades are not posted until August. If students make their grade targets, they know they can attend their first-choice schools in September or October. If not, they go into a system called "clearing,'' in which they have to scramble for a place in the institutions with vacancies.

"All this happens in just one or two weeks," Mr. Wragg said.

With the mobile phones, students can punch in a personal-identification number to track applications online any time of day and avoid jammed phone lines.

"It's less expensive for us and less expensive for students," said Ross Hayman, a spokesman for the admissions service. The benefit to phone suppliers is a chance to secure customer loyalty early on.

But one pool of applicants would be left out: The phones wouldn't go to the 50,000 students from the United States and other foreign nations who apply to schools in Britain each year.

—Debra Viadero

Vol. 20, Issue 4, Page 8

Published in Print: September 27, 2000, as Foreign Exchange
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