a levels results day
This year's A Levels results day has proven to be less generous compared to previous years. Source: Justin Tallis/AFP

Following A Levels results day, students in the UK are reportedly struggling to find university places as they miss out on their first choices. This has resulted in a surge of interest in finding spots at universities through clearing, according to The Guardian

University admissions teams have reported fierce competition from students, who are finding it difficult to secure places for the most popular courses. This comes after A Levels results in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were predicted to plummet this year. 

Graduating students of 2022 are the first to sit for their A Levels without doing their GCSEs, which were cancelled due to the onslaught of the pandemic. It was previously predicted them to do better on average compared to 2019 when exams were last held, but that this year’s grades would be significantly lower compared to 2020, when almost 45% of all A-Level results consisted of As or A*s. 

The proportion of students receiving top grades across England, Wales and Northern Ireland saw a significant decrease. Justin Tallis/AFP

A-Levels results day 2022 predicted to be less generous

Education secretary James Cleverly said it was “always the plan” for A-Levels results day to be less generous compared to previous years. 

“Students might get slightly lower grades than perhaps they were expecting and hoping for [but] I think we should see the majority of students get into the institutions they want to,” he told Sky News. 

Much of this was proven true during this year’s A Levels results day. The proportion of students receiving top grades across England, Wales and Northern Ireland saw a significant decrease. Only 36.4% of students were awarded an A or A* compared to 44.8% in 2021. However, this number was still higher than figures in 2019, when only 25.4% of students received the same results. 

Of these, maths is the most popular A Levels subject among students. However, the number of students taking psychology and business studies increased by more than 10% this year, while those taking one of the three English subjects available decreased by 19,677 candidates. 

Much of the sharp drop in results has to do with the government-induced efforts to rein in grade inflation. This is to combat the higher-than-average grades awarded to students over the course of the pandemic, which were granted to accommodate for extraordinary circumstances. 

Despite this, Cleverly predicted that most students would be meeting their first choice offers, or if not, still managing to aim for other top-rated universities. 

“Today we are going to see hundreds of thousands of happy students getting into their first choice institutions and plenty of others going to great universities or apprenticeships or employment, using clearing, or clearing plus all the other advice and assistance available to them,” he was quoted saying.

Students are being encouraged to look beyond Russell Group universities if they miss out on their offers. Source: Justin Tallis/AFP

Students should look beyond Russell Group unis, say experts

The newly-introduced grade regulation means that most students are not meeting the entry requirements of their offers this A-Levels results day. This, however, has been in the cards for years — particularly due to an imbalance between student demand and the limited ability of UK universities to meet this. 

According to Times Higher Education, the last few years have seen many universities accommodate students, allowing those with lower or a decent set of grades entry into their chosen programmes. This spans across all aspects of admissions — higher tariff universities were recruiting hundreds of students through clearing despite lower grade levels, for example. 

The education website stipulated that this year’s A Levels results day is instead reminiscent of pre-2012 trends, where competition was fiercer and universities more rigid. This is to adjust to the current practice of over-recruitment during the admissions process — a move that UCAS chief executive Clare Marchant called “precise, conservative and cautious.”

In this, experts are encouraging students to look beyond Russell Group universities, and turn to other institutions that are perhaps less prestigious, but unwavering in quality.

“It’s a poor reflection on the rest of the sector that they have let the Russell Group, a group of research-intensive universities of varying quality, get away with establishing a runaway ‘brand’ that bears little relation to the realities of the student experience or the relative selectivity of the courses on offer,” Mary Curnock Cook, former chief executive of UCAS, writes for Times Higher Education. 

“There is a wide choice of non-Russell Group universities and courses that offer a superb education and student experience and that have courses available in clearing for disappointed applicants. It’s a crying shame that some prospective students (and their parents) will feel a sense of failure for not making it on to a Russell Group course.”