School leavers face one of the toughest battles for university places ‘in living memory’ when A-level results are published next week
- Ucas has urged pupils to prepare a ‘plan B’ if they miss out on their first choice
School pupils are facing one of the toughest battles for university places in ‘living memory’ when A-level results are published next week.
Ucas, the university admissions body, has urged pupils to prepare a ‘plan B’ should they miss out on their first choice of course – amid warnings that 100,000 fewer top grades will be awarded.
A boom in the number of 18-year-olds and international students means competition for spots will be tighter, Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said, leaving disappointed pupils – who have already faced a year of disruption from industrial action – left fighting for places through the clearing process.
Ms Marchant said: ‘When it comes to results day on August 17, I think a lot of those highly selective courses at highly selective institutions will go quite quickly.
‘So certainly my advice to students is to be pretty quick off the mark if that’s what you’re looking for.’
Ucas, the university admissions body, has urged pupils to prepare a ‘plan B’ should they miss out on their first choice of course (file image of A Level students receiving their results)
The number of top A-level grades awarded to pupils surged in 2020 and 2021 because results were based on teacher assessments. And in 2022 exam boards were more lenient to reflect the learning lost during the pandemic.
But this year grading has returned to pre-pandemic standards, although there is some protection for students against the impact of Covid disruption. Almost 100,000 fewer A* and A grades are expected to be awarded compared to last year, according to Professor Alan Smithers, director of education at the University of Buckingham.
Thousands of British students also face losing out on places to international students, who pay much higher fees. With tuition fees frozen during a period of high inflation, universities are increasingly looking to foreign students as a way of sustaining funding.
And the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents the UK’s eight biggest exam boards, has said there will not be extra marks for pupils who missed lessons because of ‘staff shortages’ during walkouts by the National Education Union.
Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said pupils will be experiencing ‘the highest levels of anxiety and uncertainty’. He added: ‘I think it’s definitely going to be one of the toughest battles for university places in living memory. It is a perfect storm of factors… This is in many ways the unluckiest cohort of students coming out of the pandemic.’
This year grading has returned to pre-pandemic standards, although there is some protection for students against the impact of Covid disruption (file image)
While universities are under pressure to admit more applicants from diverse backgrounds, experts warn that middle-class pupils could lose out. Nick Hillman, of the Higher Education Policy Institute think-tank, said there will not be ‘anything like as many places in the universities some people have always had their hearts set upon and where the middle classes are particularly well represented’.
A sample of 130 of the UK’s largest higher education providers showed over 22,000 courses with vacancies on the Ucas clearing site yesterday. Fifteen of the 24 elite Russell Group universities had vacancies, a total of 2,021 courses.
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