Thousands of pupils could miss out on first choice universities, professor says

Alan Smithers says there could be 80,000 fewer top grades

About 40,000 applicants could miss out on their first choices for university. PA
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Tens of thousands of pupils in the UK could miss out on their first choice for university in what is likely to be the most competitive year for courses ever, an education expert has said.

The proportion of pupils receiving top grades could fall by almost 10 percentage points compared with last year, when many were given marks determined by teachers rather than exams due to the Covid-19 pandemic, said Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research.

He added there could be 80,000 fewer top grades — A* or A — awarded than in 2021, meaning up to 40,000 pupils could miss out on their course or university of choice.

Mr Smithers described 2022 as “likely to be the most competitive ever”.

“There is the carry-over from the Covid years, increased demand from mature and overseas students, and the number of 18-year-olds is rising, nearly half of whom apply to university,” he said.

“Universities have reacted to the teacher-assessment boom in top grades by raising requirements and reducing firm offers. For many of this year's school leavers, the hard work did not end with A-levels, but begins again on results day in the chase for the coveted places.

“As a result of bringing down the top grades, about 40,000 applicants could miss out on their first choices, although it could be as many as 60,000.”

He added that measures to tackle grade inflation are “part of a process of trying to restore meaning to getting a top grade” but added that it will “cause turbulence this year”.

The British government has already stated that grades look set to drop this summer, and then again in 2023, as part of a transition back to pre-pandemic arrangements.

In June, Clare Marchant, chief executive at the Universities and Colleges Admission Service, said this year will “undoubtedly be more competitive for some courses and providers”.

Almost half of teachers have told the service that they were less confident their pupils would get their first choice of university compared with previous years and about two in five instructors expected their pupils to use the clearing process, when university applicants are matched to places that haven't been filled

But Ms Marchant said the service is predicting a “record, or near record, number of 18-year-olds getting their first choice this year”.

She added that “as in any year, some students will be disappointed when they receive their grades”.

Updated: August 13, 2022, 12:20 AM