A-level horde prompts calls for more cash

August 17, 2001

Opportunities have never been better for pupils seeking places in higher education, but the expected influx has prompted calls for more money for student support.

The growth in the number of higher education places means that many students will get into university with lower grades than in previous years, according to lecturers' unions and the National Union of Students. But as a result, students may struggle with coursework, while lecturers will be stretched to ensure undergraduates pass their degrees.

Evidence shows a correlation between lower A-level points on entry and non-completion of degree courses.

While the pass rate at A level rose 0.7 per cent to 89.9 per cent, there is a 1.4 per cent increase in full-time student numbers for the next academic year, in line with government expansion targets.

Meanwhile, the number of people sitting advanced GNVQ exams fell 11.9 per cent, with overall pass rates rising 1 per cent to 59.8 per cent. The pass rate for the new vocational A levels was 54.5 per cent.

A spokesman for the Association of University Teachers noted that the growth in student numbers had not been matched by a growth in the number of staff and that lecturers are increasingly tied up in red tape. "If the government does not release money in the comprehensive spending review, we will see students being short changed," he said.

A spokeswoman for lecturers' union Natfhe said: "Students who do not have the expected A-level grades might need more support. It is important that those with additional needs can go to their tutor and that their tutor is not overburdened with bureaucracy.

"The wider the participation rate, the more important it is that universities have the funding to ensure that they have the staff to provide support for a wider range of students."

Owain James, president of the NUS, said: "The NUS is concerned by the high numbers of students who do not complete their degrees. Estimates suggest that more than one-fifth drop out, many because of a lack of financial support. The government must help learners to complete their courses and not get into debt."

Yesterday saw the publication of the first AS-level results, for exams taken at the end of the first year of A-level study. An estimated 80 per cent of schools and colleges entered their pupils for the AS-level exams.

The pass rate was 86.6 per cent, some 3.3 per cent lower than the A-level pass rate. The gender gap was greater than at A level. The pass rate at A level for female pupils was 90.7 per cent, compared with 88.8 per cent for males. At AS level, there was an 88.5 per cent pass rate for females, compared with 84.3 per cent for males.

Paul Sokoloff, convenor of the Joint Council for General Qualifications, said: "One can speculate that because these exams are taken at the end of the first year rather than the second year, one is looking at a slightly different cohort. There are always more people in the first year than the second."

* Some admissions tutors have predicted chaos in clearing because of delays in the forwarding of results from examinations boards, writes Alison Utley.

Richard Howells of the University of Leeds said almost a quarter of students' results for its communications studies programme had failed to arrive, with English grades being a particular problem. "This is highly unusual. It is inconvenient and time consuming for us and it is stressful for the candidates," he said.

The head of admissions at another university, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of causing panic, said missing exam results on Wednesday were causing headaches.

Although the late arrival of English results was confirmed elsewhere, Tony Higgins, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said that while there had been some delays over last weekend, hold-ups had now been resolved.

* The Scottish Qualifications Authority avoided repeating last year's fiasco of thousands of inaccurate and incomplete results, with ministers claiming the Scottish examinations system was "back on track". But the SQA had to make an apology the day after claiming a 7 per cent rise in the Highers pass rate. The SQA admitted it had used the wrong statistics, and the pass rate had gone up from 71.1 per cent to 72.4 per cent.

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