A Level Results will bring Clearing Heartache

Results day is nearly on us, but those unfortunate students who miss their offer grades will have fewer options than usual this year. There is more competition, and even the standard fallback, clearing, will not have many course places to offer.

For a quick assessment of the regular effects of this silliest part of the silly season on teachers check last year’s post on the matter (the newspapers will just roll out the same stories anyway). This post will focus instead on the students.

This Year is Different

This year is different for anyone biting their nails waiting for Thursday’s results, because of the combined effects of three government policies:

  • One is the often discussed grade inflation, which leads ever larger proportions of the school population to feel they have what it takes to succeed at university, and allows the government to claim standards are improving.
  • The second is the lack of funding to cover the extra costs to institutions of teaching the increasing numbers of undergraduates.
  • And the third is that, for the first time in fifteen years, universities will be financially penalised if they over-recruit.

Traditionally, students’ applications to universities are based on the school predicted grades, which are inflated to improve the chance of an offer. It is not as risky as it sounds, since universities routinely allow students who only miss their offer by one grade to still keep their place. And everyone does it, making it fair, at least. And if they missed out, then last year 44 000 applied for course during Clearing, filling up the remaining university places.

Fewer Places

But now, with 40 000 extra applications and only 3 000 extra places, Clearing will only have around 16 000 places on offer, leaving 65 000 hopeful students without a place. And with a demographic peak reaching college in the next year or two, taking a year out and applying again next year is now looking to be a silly strategy.

One could hope that the main effect of all this is that only those students with poor grades applying to weaker institutions will suffer, but many students are unrealistic when it comes to selecting competitive courses at prestigious universities.

Rejections

Admissions officers are saying they will not allow any ‘softening’ of offers, so missing one A level subject by one grade will lead to a rejection. Even our local ex-teacher-training college-now-university will not soften requirements or offer places for clearing on any but the two most frivolous courses.

The next couple of weeks look likely to deliver heartache on a large scale.

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