Universities have been accused of cutting minimum entry requirements and admitting students to unsuitable courses in an unscrupulous battle to fill places, writes Phil Baty.
Educational consultancy firm Gabbitas has reported a rise in demand for its private tuition business as more students fail their end-of-year exams and are forced to study over the summer for resits.
The firm said the increased demand for additional tuition reflected the mismatching of students and university places, and a widening quality gap between the standard of A levels and degree courses.
"Nearly one in five students drops out of university without finishing the course, with 40 per cent of these leaving because they were unhappy with their chosen course," the firm said.
"Gabbitas regularly helps young people who have accepted a place on the first available course through clearing just to get into university and who have not considered the consequences. Students are not helped by institutions, that, as several Gabbitas cases have shown, are willing to undercut their minimum requirements and offer student places on unsuitable courses in order to fill places."
Gabbitas marketing director Wendy Fidler said it was evident from the cases of students whom the firm had helped that many were badly suited for the courses they had been enrolled on, and many seemed underqualified for higher education.
"We have not completed a comprehensive survey," Ms Fidler said, "but the anecdotal evidence is there."
The firm said it was projecting more increases in demand for private tuition "if current indications of an increase in the number of struggling students prove accurate".
Gabbitas said that the majority of students were seeking help in maths, statistics, the sciences or law. "This may be indicative of a widening gap between the demands of A-level and degree studies in these areas," the firm said.
It also predicted that the new A-level curriculum would exacerbate problems because the packed timetables will leave less room for extracurricular activities and the development of other skills.