A-level results: students securing university places drops again

The Ucas data also shows that the number of international students accepted on to courses also fell

August 17, 2023
exam results
Source: iStock

Fewer UK 18-year-olds have gained a place at their first-choice university following attempts to reverse the grade inflation of the past few years.

Ucas data for the 2023 results day shows that 230,600 UK 18-year-olds have been accepted on to courses – down slightly from last year, and 6 per cent from the peak of 245,330 in 2021.

Of them, 79 per cent secured their first choice of the courses they were accepted on to – down from 81 per cent in 2022 when end-of-school examinations were reintroduced, but up from 74 per cent in 2019.

The fall is the second part of a two-year process by the regulator Ofqual to decrease the number of students in England achieving top grades back towards pre-pandemic levels, meaning the proportion of pupils achieving top A*-A grades fell from 35.9 per cent to 26.5 per cent year-on-year.

Students in Wales and Northern Ireland, which continued to use a more generous grading system, were less affected.

The Ucas data shows the number of UK 18-year-olds gaining places at the most selective universities fell again, but not as much as the steep drop seen last year, meaning 37.1 per cent of accepted applicants are at “higher tariff” institutions.

Around a third are at “medium tariff”, while the 29 per cent at “lower tariff” providers represents the second lowest proportion on record, following a record fall in the number of accepted applicants.

The figures revealed that 12 per cent of UK 18-year-olds have been placed at their insurance choice, with a further 9 per cent now in clearing – up from 7 per cent in 2022.

With 29,000 courses available to them, Ucas said these students have a wider range of choices than last year when there were about 26,000 available.

Overall, 414,940 applicants have gained a place at university or college – down on 425,830 last year but an increase on 408,960 in 2019.

Experts had termed this cohort of students – who received record GCSE results just two years ago – the “unluckiest generation of all”.

The Ucas figures show that 2 per cent fewer international students were accepted on to UK courses, following a fall in the number of placed applicants from China.

But the fact that the proportion of overseas students accepting places was unchanged (from 12.3 per cent of full-time placed undergraduates) refutes the narrative that domestic students are losing out, according to Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK.

Clare Marchant, Ucas chief executive, said the exams took place during a time that has seen many “complex factors at play”, such as geopolitics, the economy and job market, and the cost of living.

“However, today’s data shows that challenges in widening participation to the most disadvantaged students still persist.

“This demonstrates that we all need to continue the efforts to ensure the most disadvantaged individuals in society are able to benefit from life-changing opportunities in higher education and training, particularly as the 18-year-old population grows.”

The figures show that 25,760 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds in the UK were accepted – a 3 per cent fall year-on-year, which is the largest drop since comparable records began in 2014.

And Rachel Hewitt, chief executive of MillionPlus, which represents modern universities, said it was “troubling” to see the number of people applying to study nursing and teaching fall significantly.

“The country is already short of these vital public service professionals; the fact that prospective students are turning their backs on these subjects for a variety of reasons should concern the government,” she added.

“Action is required and soon to ensure that these courses remain attractive and to maintain a healthy pipeline of skilled trainees into these professions.”


Register to continue

Why register?

  • Registration is free and only takes a moment
  • Once registered, you can read 3 articles a month
  • Sign up for our newsletter
Please Login or Register to read this article.

Related articles