Early post-Covid school leavers must fight for fewer college places | Admissions

The first cohort of post-Covid school leavers face a summer of uncertainty that “threatens to hold back a generation”, as students compete for fewer places in popular university courses.

After the inflation of A-level grades during the pandemic forced universities to hire more students, institutions are now falling back on popular subjects despite an increase in applications.

Parents and teachers who contacted the Guardian report that students planning to achieve A* grades in their A levels, which in previous years would receive offers from many of their favorite institutions, have instead received a series of rejections .

Stephen Morgan, Minister for Shadow Schools, said: “This Government’s repeated failure to plan for the future of our children threatens to set back a generation. Young people taking exams this summer have endured two years of chaos and disruption in their education. Yet ministers’ complacency leaves them with the added worry that getting good grades won’t be enough to get them to the next stage of their lives.

“Last summer we urged ministers to work with universities, we set out a plan for this summer’s grades almost a year ago, but ministers have stood idly by. The aspirations of children are an afterthought for this government.

University applications are up 5% this year, fueled in part by the higher number of 18-year-olds – a result of the baby boom of the mid-2000s and part of a trend that is expected to continue over the course of the next decade – and those who have delayed their candidacy because of the pandemic.

But members of the Russell Group of research-intensive universities have over-recruited over the past two years – as students have achieved higher grades assessed by teachers – and they now want to bring the numbers down to the levels of before the pandemic.

University leaders blame the erosion of tuition fees by inflation for making it difficult for them to cater for the growing number of school dropouts. To keep the numbers manageable, folks colleges are making fewer offers, disappointing some applicants.

Daniel Merrett, 17, a student at a public school in Portsmouth which was on free school meals, has an A* in maths and is predicted A*A*A in maths, physics and computer science. But he was rejected by his top four picks from Oxford, Imperial College, Warwick and Bath. He received the rulings very late in the cycle and decided to reapply next year rather than accept his insurance offer from Liverpool.

“When I read ‘your bid failed’ it was a big shock, I wasn’t ready to see that response,” he said. “The first day was depressing, I didn’t feel very well. You have just shattered one of your dreams. It made me feel like my A* was less valuable than usual.

Larissa Kennedy, President of the National Union of Students UK, said: ‘It is absolutely appalling for students. What they called access was really a closed door, and this news exposed the myth of this broken education system.

Maija, a teacher, said her Grade 13 students faced “frustration and devastation” after several of them, whose top grades were predicted, were rejected from all universities, at except for their backup choice.

“In other years, students with equivalent performance were able to obtain the desired places. I find it absolutely illogical that a student with these achievements should be considered not good enough,” she said.

Maija said that universities have increased their grade requirements this year and some students have applied to “insurance” universities which have then increased their offers, for example to AAA instead of ABB, which was more of a good substitute.

An email to schools at the University of Warwick said that “due to the uncertainty of grading A-levels and [the international baccalaureate]he had raised his entry requirements to A*A*A.

A university executive said the bids were “more conservative” after seeing higher-than-expected predictions from teachers. Students use the predicted grades to make their initial requests and usually receive offers conditional on achieving certain exam results.

Mark Corver, the founder of DataHE, said data from last year showed high-cost universities were tightening recruitment after years of expansion. “We hypothesized at the time that all the circumstances were in place for this not to be a one-time event, but a dramatic change in the ability of applicants to enter certain types of universities.”

Mike Nicholson, director of recruitment at the University of Cambridge, said many universities have found themselves with far more students than expected in 2020 and 2021. “So we see 2022 as a year that a lot of universities are using to Universities are conservative enough in the number of offers made so as not to be caught off guard.

Nicholson said students were unlikely to be able to “trade” in the compensation because the most competitive courses and universities would be full. For students considering deferring, he said offers next year are likely to be even lower.

However, fewer young school leavers in England are expected to defer or take a gap year, after government changes to the student loan system. Students starting classes in 2023 will pay off their student loans for 40 years after graduation, up from 30 years for those admitted to classes this fall.

A spokesperson for the Ucas University Admissions Department said, “We have seen over the past two years during the pandemic with the shift from exams to teacher-assessed grades, more students meet the requirements for their offering, especially in the more competitive courses like law, engineering, medicine, and dentistry.

“At the most competitive universities, the number of students accepted into full-time undergraduate courses has increased from 154,000 in 2019 to 177,000 in 2021.”

Ucas said the 5% increase in the number of UK 18-year-olds applying this year, from 306,200 to 320,420, along with 6,000 more students holding delayed entry places, “will make getting more ‘a place in many universities a highly competitive process’.

A Department of Education spokesperson said: “We want all students with the ability and talent to study at university to be able to do so, and last year a record number of students secured university places, including a record number of 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Every year there is a competition for places at the most popular universities and on the most popular courses, but the government works closely with the higher education sector to ensure that students are in able to progress to high quality courses that lead to good results.”


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Edward L. Robinett