Tens of thousands of students who will get their A-level results on Thursday will face a last-minute rush to secure places at UK universities, many of whom have warned competition will be fierce and places hard to find for courses the most popular.
On the eve of results day for A-levels, BTecs and the government’s new T-levels, university admissions teams have reported renewed interest from students seeking places through compensation , a process that matches unplaced students with unfilled courses.
In what is expected to be a turbulent year for admissions, A-level results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are set to fall sharply after government intervention to curb grade inflation over the next few years. last two years of teacher-assessed grades.
The first cohort to pass A-levels without taking GCSE exams, which have been canceled due to the pandemic, are expected to do better on average than in 2019 when the last exams were taken. But grades are likely to be significantly lower than last year, when almost 45% of all A-levels were rated A or A*.
Schools that have seen the greatest increase in grades during the pandemic are likely to experience the largest declines, among them independent schools where the proportion of top graders has increased by nine percentage points to 70%, from six points of percentage elsewhere.
Public sector headteachers – who got an early preview of their results, which were released to schools on Wednesday – were cautiously optimistic, reporting few surprises and in some cases better-than-expected results. Uncertainty remains around university places, however, with higher demand from a larger cohort and conservative offers from top-tier institutions.
An analysis by the Liberal Democrats suggested that 75,000 A-level entries would be downgraded from A and A* due to changes to grade limits. The research, based on a simplified version of the exam board grading process that establishes a rigid midpoint between 2021 and pre-pandemic grading, suggests some subjects may be more affected than others.
Mathematics, Sociology, Law, English and Business Studies saw the smallest reduction in A and A* grades, while Music, Drama, Spanish, Performing Arts and PE recorded the strongest. There was a general tendency for subjects in the humanities to be more affected by changing level boundaries.
Mark Corver, founder of dataHE, which advises universities on admissions, said he expected “the gap between expectations and outcomes to be very large this year” given that the current cohort had saw his slightly older peers “go to selective universities in record numbers”. ”.
“It wouldn’t have been unreasonable if they envisioned a similar future for themselves, but that’s unlikely to happen,” he said. He added that this year’s admissions cycle would look like a step back, closer to the “limited supply” years of 2010-12, and reversing “a decade of essentially growing student choice”.
The university admissions service, Ucas, expects “the majority” of students to secure a place at their first-choice university, but the situation on the ground remains fluid.
Ella Kirkbride, Admissions Officer at the University of Hull, said: “We expect demand for cleared places to be high. This is already reflected in the number of people who have signed up for our compensation updates – which has increased by 228%. »
Loughborough, Hull, Northumbria, De Montfort and Nottingham Trent universities have all reported more interest and requests from students to change courses as compensation.
Nick Hudson, the chief executive of Ormiston Academies Trust, hoped that most of his students would get the places they were aiming for. “We are seeing strong results above the average grades achieved in 2019 and in line with 2020 when exams were not taken – and this applies to all students, including high achievers and those who are disadvantaged. “
Higher education insiders say there is enough capacity across the sector to compensate for tight supply at the most selective universities, with spaces at lower-tier institutions, many of which have plans ambitious growth plan as well as places freed up by a drop in applications from part-time students and mature students.
They also warn students who are unhappy with their offers to think seriously before postponing and reapplying next year, warning that a further rise in the number of 18-year-olds in the UK next year next means that the number of applications will probably be even higher and the competition greater.