Elite UK universities take lion’s share of bump in recruitment

Highly selective institutions’ recruitment of English school-leavers up 31 per cent year-on-year, as medical students offered incentives to transfer

August 10, 2021
Hope, Derbyshire, UK. August 26, 2019. Families of spectators at a country show queuing for ice cream in the beautiful peak district countryside at the Hope show in Derbyshire, UK.
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The UK’s most selective universities boasted record intakes as A-level results were released, with students on oversubscribed medical courses being offered £10,000 to switch institutions.

Overall a record 435,430 students were placed on UK degree courses on results day, up 5 per cent on 2020.

With 44.8 per cent of all A levels being awarded at A* or A in a second year of rapid grade inflation because of the use of teacher-assessed scores instead of examinations, data released by Ucas showed that the most selective institutions had taken the lion’s share of increased recruitment at this stage.

The admissions service said that high-tariff institutions had placed 163,100 students, up 14 per cent year-on-year. In contrast, medium-tariff institutions’ recruitment grew by only 2 per cent, while low-tariff providers’ intake shrunk by 2 per cent.

The shift to selective institutions was particularly pronounced when considering only 18 year olds from England: 84,640 of these school-leavers entered high-tariff providers, up 31 per cent year-on-year, and representing 40 per cent of this cohort. Just two years ago this figure stood at 34 per cent.

While all groups recorded rises in non-European Union recruitment, recruitment from within the bloc plummeted across the sector, with admissions down 56 per cent in a year, and this lay behind the bulk of low tariff providers’ decline.

Mary Curnock Cook, a former chief executive of Ucas, described the increase in placed students at high tariff providers as “huge”, even if the U-turn on grading following results day last year meant that direct comparisons were hard to make at this stage.

“Rather than seeing Russell Group [institutions] in clearing mopping up those who’ve achieved high grades, as they would in a normal year, it’s fairly clear that quite a lot of them are not in clearing at all this year or only for very limited courses,” Ms Curnock Cook said. “And that’s because they will have filled their boots from their ‘firm’ offers, as so many students have met their offer conditions.”

This could leave less selective universities able to scoop up some of the 143,030 students who remain free to be placed via clearing.

Highly selective institutions typically make offers earlier in the cycle and the January deadline for applying to university had passed by the time ministers announced plans to use teacher-assessed grades.

Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions at the University of Bath, said that 93 per cent of students they had accepted had met or exceeded the terms of their offer this year. “In a normal year, it would be somewhere between about 68 and 75 per cent,” he said.

“We have taken a few near-miss students where there’s been compelling circumstances, but otherwise we are shut for clearing and not taking anybody else in,” Mr Nicholson continued. It meant Bath was probably “a couple hundred over but we’ll be able to cope with that”.

“There are probably other universities who haven’t planned in the same way who will be facing a different situation…you can see that by who is missing in clearing,” he added.

Oversubscription was most evident on medicine courses, where the Westminster government had already raised the cap on places in England to more than 9,000 after a 20 per cent increase in applications.

The Medical Schools Council said that a key problem was that the sites where clinical placements were available were “not exactly aligned with oversubscribed medical schools”.

As a result, it had agreed to support a brokerage scheme led by the Department for Education under which applicants who meet the conditions of offers at oversubscribed universities would be given £10,000 for the “inconvenience” if they transferred to another institution.

“This year, we have seen applications to medicine courses rise by 20 per cent, and many more applicants have met the terms of their offers than forecast,” said Malcolm Reed, the council’s co-chair.

“Medical schools recognise the need to bolster the future NHS workforce and by supporting this brokerage programme have committed to ensuring that expansion considers the need to maintain high-quality medical education and training for all future doctors.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com

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