A-level results 2018: reaction from higher education

Key figures from the university sector respond to results and early Ucas figures on acceptances

August 16, 2018
Exam results

The number of students accepted into UK universities has dropped for a second year in a row, as Times Higher Education reported earlier today.

This A-level results day has seen the overall number of home student acceptances at UK universities drop by 2 per cent on the previous year. According to Ucas, this is driven by a 2.5 per cent decline in the UK population of 18-year-olds.

Key figures from the sector have responded to the news.

Greg Walker, chief executive of MillionPlus:

“Regardless of a fall in the number of 18-year olds due to demographics and changes to the structure of exams, overall achievement at A levels and BTECs has held up well. A record 16.1 per cent of people from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have been accepted, a rise of 0.4 percentage points on last year.

“Also, in the midst of so much political and economic uncertainty, it is pleasing to see an increase of 1 per cent in EU students, and 4 per cent in international students being accepted. We now need to come to an international agreement with our partners in the EU and EEA to ensure a reciprocal arrangement on university fees otherwise we risk facing a potential decline in acceptances in the future.”

He added: “Despite these positives, the bigger picture is that of a missed national opportunity in the overall fall in the number of acceptances to university. An ambitious country with aspirations to be a global leader post-Brexit should be putting in place policies to ensure that more people have the benefit of a university education, not fewer.

“The Post-18 Education Review provides us with the chance to reboot our approach, ensuring that the apprenticeship levy is used more flexibly for work-based higher education and foundation degrees. Improving support for mature students to study would also put us back on track to meet the challenge of the race to the top of the international high-level skills league.”

Alistair Jarvis, Universities UK chief executive:

“There remains strong demand for university places, with the proportion of 18-year-olds in England applying at record levels. The majority of applicants will get the grades required and will secure their place at university. For those who do not get the results they had hoped, there are many options available to them through clearing. Last year, a record 66,865 applicants used clearing to find the right course for them.

John Cope, CBI head of education and skills policy:

“What’s driving the growth of unconditional offers is complex. To protect the credibility of our world-class sector, universities must ensure that unconditional offers are used carefully, such as helping widen access to university and driving social justice.”

Sir David Cannadine, president of the British Academy:

“At the British Academy, we are concerned that the decline in students studying humanities subjects at A level is already having an impact on the skills of the future workforce, especially when it comes to foreign languages. In an age of shifting diplomatic alignments, and with Brexit around the corner, our lack of language skills could put the UK at a major disadvantage when forging global connections.

“The skills developed by studying humanities and social science subjects at A level and at university will be essential as we negotiate the challenges the UK faces, from AI to an ageing society and sustainable development. We will need people with insights from law, philosophy, politics and history, as well as from Britain’s outstanding STEM sector.”

Donna Kinnair, director of nursing policy and practice at the Royal College of Nursing:

“Ministers’ decisions on student funding have left nursing in managed decline. Today’s figures should be the wake-up call that the Government needs to properly address the staffing crisis that’s putting safe and effective patient care at risk. 

“We urgently need comprehensive workforce plans that safeguard recruitment and retention and respond to patient needs in each country of the UK. Although we will see additional students placed through clearing in the coming weeks, today’s figures mean that fewer nurses will enter our understaffed health care system in three years’ time, further jeopardising patient care. This situation cannot be allowed to continue.  

“The Government is nowhere near recruiting the 10,000 extra health care students that we were promised by 2020. We need nurses with the education and skills to lead patient care. It’s time for ministers to take decisive action to address the nursing shortage and keep patients safe.”

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