A levels: record number win place at first-choice university

Proportion of school-leavers achieving top grades expected to soar

August 10, 2021
Two Female Students Celebrating Exam Results Together
Source: iStock

A record number of students have won a place at their first-choice university, Ucas said, with the proportion of UK school-leavers achieving top grades expected to soar.

The admissions service said that 395,770 students had been admitted to their preferred full-time undergraduate course as results from A levels and other exams were released – 91 per cent of everyone with a confirmed place.

The number of students accepted by their first-choice institution on results day is up 8 per cent on last year, when 88 per cent of those with a confirmed place were accepted by their number one pick.

It comes as the use of teacher-assessed scores instead of examinations – cancelled for the second year running because of the coronavirus pandemic – led to a significant increase in the proportion of top grades awarded. A record 44.8 per cent of all A-level grades were at A* or A, up from 38.3 per cent in 2020, and 25.5 per cent in 2019.

Ucas said that a total of 435,430 students had been given a place as results were released, including those who had been admitted to their insurance choice. This is up 5 per cent on last year.

Of those admitted, 388,230 are from the UK, up 8 per cent on last year. Some 245,330 are aged 18 – a figure that is up 17 per cent year-on-year. It means that 34.1 per cent of all 18-year-olds in the UK are set to enter university this autumn, up from 30.2 per cent last year.

Universities have expressed concern about how they will accommodate such a high proportion of students achieving the terms of their offer, with particular concern about highly competitive courses such as medicine and dentistry.

Last week the Westminster government responded by lifting the cap on medicine and dentistry places in England to 9,000. One institution, the University of Exeter, had resorted to offering medicine candidates £10,000 and a year’s free accommodation if they deferred.

Ucas said that on results day 8,560 students from England had been accepted on to medicine and dentistry courses, up 23 per cent, from 6,960, at the same point last year.

Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, said that universities had “been flexible with their decisions to accommodate as many students as possible on to their first choice of course”.

Internationally, a new record of 37,390 students from outside the European Union have been accepted, up 9 per cent on last year. However, admissions from the EU are only 9,820, down 56 per cent in a year, as this autumn is the first year that students from the bloc will have to pay full international fees, following Brexit.

Meanwhile, there has been concern that the use of teacher-assessed grades could widen the gap in entry rates between private and state schools, as a result of the impact of coronavirus-related school closures and – potentially – pressure from parents on teachers.

Ucas said that this year there had been no progress in closing the gap in entry rates between the most and least disadvantaged students, based on the neighbourhood they grew up in.

Lord Wharton of Yarm, the chair of England’s Office for Students, said that despite the “unusual” admissions cycle, universities “must still honour the places of students who meet the terms of their offer”.

“I have been clear that it is not acceptable for universities to put pressure on students to defer their course, or to take up a place on a different course. Incentives can be offered, but students need to be treated fairly at all times – with universities recognising that they must honour offers for students who wish to accept them,” Lord Wharton said.

Lord Wharton added that universities must not “risk the quality of higher education by overrecruiting to courses”.


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