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A-level results: acceptances down from pandemic high


Early results day data show slight decline in total number placed on courses

There has been a 19 per cent increase in the number of UK 18-year-olds gaining a place at either their first or second choice institution when compared with 2019, the last cycle pre-Covid—but numbers are down year on year, the university admissions body Ucas has said.

As A-level students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland received their results on 18 August, Ucas data showed that 238,090 UK 18-year-olds had been accepted, up from 199,370 in 2019. In total, 65.3 per cent of UK 18-year-old applicants were accepted by their first choice institution, down from 72.7 per cent last year.

Around 425,800​​ students across all age groups and nationalities had been accepted onto higher education courses as of 8am on results day—the second highest number on record. This includes 46,850 UK students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds—an increase of 3,770 on 2019.

This year is the first time students have sat formal examinations since 2019, with the last two years of A-levels disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic. There has been a 2 per cent decline in the total number of acceptances when compared with 2021, when results were based on teacher assessed grades.

Overall, the proportion of entries awarded A* and A grades was 36.4 per cent this year—down from 44.8 per cent last year, but up from 25.5 per cent in 2019.

‘Better range of opportunities available’

Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, said there had been “much discussion about what the return to examinations would mean for progression to higher education”.

“Today we have seen more students progress compared to the last time students sat exams,” she continued. “This year has seen a growth in the number of 18-year-olds in the population, which will continue for the remainder of the decade, and creates a more competitive environment for students in the years to come.”

Marchant added that while many students would be celebrating, there would also be some who were disappointed.

“My advice is to take advantage of the wide range of choices on offer, which includes over 27,000 courses in clearing, along with a range of apprenticeship opportunities,” she said.

In England, the Department for Education said that almost 180,000 18-year-olds had their place at their first choice of university confirmed—the largest number on record for a year in which examinations took place.

James Cleverly, the education secretary, said that every student collecting their results today should be “proud of their achievements”.

“Not only have they studied throughout the pandemic, but they are the first group in three years to sit exams. For that, I want to congratulate them and say a huge thank you to those who helped them get to this point,” he said.

“Despite the nerves that people will feel, I want to reassure anyone collecting their results that whatever your grades, there has never been a better range of opportunities available. Whether going on to one of our world-leading universities, a high-quality apprenticeship, or the world of work, students have exciting options as they prepare to take their next steps.”

A-level results: response from the sector

Bernie Savage, vice-president for further education, National Union of Students:

“Congratulations to every single student getting their results today. This cohort has faced so many barriers, so to have overcome them is a massive achievement in itself. If you didn’t get the grades you wanted, you should still be incredibly proud and know there are lots of options open to you.

“Students worked for these results under the toughest studying conditions we’ve ever seen, and now their future is threatened by the cost-of-living crisis. Students are a cross-section of society—they’re of all ages; they’re workers, parents, carers, migrants, refugees—and they deserve a leg up right now.

“That’s why we’re calling on the government to ensure all students can access cost-of-living support, so that they can focus on what’s important: achieving their goals and gaining an education that will help them make the world a little better for us all.”

Chris Hale, chief executive, Universities UK:

“Congratulations to all those who received their results today. It is exciting to once again see such high numbers of applicants continue their journey into higher education, confirming the strong appeal of our universities.

“Students applying this year have faced multiple years of disrupted education, and they and their families should be exceptionally proud of their achievements. University is a life-changing experience for many, and universities will continue to provide students with the support for success in their studies and the future.”

Susan Lapworth, interim chief executive, Office for Students:

“Students have worked incredibly hard during these challenging times. I congratulate them on their well-deserved results today. For many, it was the first time they had sat national exams at secondary school or college following the disruption of the pandemic, and their grades are testament to their efforts.

“It’s an exciting time for hundreds of thousands of students as they prepare to head off to university this autumn. The vast majority will be off to their first-choice course, while others will be considering their next steps to make the right decision for them. There are plenty of spaces left for students through clearing, and the Discover Uni website lets students compare the university courses they’re interested in.”

John Blake, director for fair access and participation, OfS:

“Universities and colleges should be ready to support incoming students and provide them with the study support necessary to reduce any knowledge gaps resulting from learning missed during the pandemic. We expect all universities to ensure students are able to achieve their full potential.

“We’re encouraged to see early indications of a continued increase in the rate of disadvantaged students gaining places. These students may need further support during their course, and universities should bear this in mind as the class of 2022 embark on their degrees.”

Rachel Hewitt, chief executive, MillionPlus:

“As hundreds of thousands of students receive their A-level, Btec and T-level results we offer our warmest congratulations to the overwhelming majority who have been rewarded with a place at their firm choice.

“Record demand for places is pleasing and demonstrates that higher education remains a popular choice for students and their families. With modern universities at the forefront of widening participation, that we have also seen a shrinking gap between the most and least advantaged students is a hugely positive trend and one we hope to see continue.”

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive, the Russell Group:

“It is fantastic to see the number of young people securing university places up on 2019, the last year exams were held, including from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

“This is a competitive year for admissions as things begin to return to normal after disruptions to exams during the pandemic. Over the next few weeks our admissions teams will be working hard to place as many young people at our universities as possible, while making sure every student can receive the world class teaching and learning experience they rightly expect.

“As is the case every year, some courses will be more competitive than others, particularly those where numbers are capped by government like medicine and dentistry.”

Vanessa Wilson, chief executive, University Alliance:

“Huge congratulations to all students receiving exam results today. It’s fantastic to see record numbers of 18-year-olds securing a place at university in an examination year. These young people have had a challenging experience over the last few years and have shown great resilience.

“There are still places available through clearing for students who haven’t got the grades they were expecting or who would like to reconsider their options. Our advice to students is not to panic: take a breath, explore the opportunities and pick up the phone or go online.”

Peter Lampl, founder, the Sutton Trust:

“Today’s results are a pivotal moment in young people’s lives: their grades are passports to their next steps into university, an apprenticeship or joining the workforce. Students should be proud of their achievements, sitting their first ever formal exams in the face of ongoing disruption.

“It’s great to see that many disadvantaged youngsters are gaining a place at university, and that there is a slight narrowing of the gap between the most and least advantaged. Universities have rightly prioritised widening participation in spite of an extremely competitive year. However, the gap is still wider than it was pre-pandemic, highlighting that there is more work to be done.”