Thousands of good A-level students will ‘miss out’ on university as competition for places increases

Applicants have been urged to have at least one university as an insurance choice on their Ucas forms  (Getty/iStock)
Applicants have been urged to have at least one university as an insurance choice on their Ucas forms (Getty/iStock)

Increased demand for top university places could mean more than 10,000 school-leavers will be left without firm offers despite getting predicted grades of at least three Bs in their A-levels, industry experts warn.

Competition among would-be undergraduates to get a place at elite universities has been driven by factors including a surge in the number of applicants, and institutions becoming warier after taking in too many high-achieving applicants during the pandemic.

Being predicted three B grades for A-levels is often enough to get into most universities but institutions – such as the elite Russell Group – have reportedly raised their entry requirements or limited spaces for popular subjects such as law, medicine and psychology.

Andrew Hargreaves, founder of Data HE, a consultancy that advises universities on admissions, and a former director at admissions service Ucas, advised applicants to choose a university with lower entrance requirements as insurance.

He warned that many applicants “will be disappointed” otherwise, as 12 elite universities have told him they will not be participating in the “clearing” scheme on the day A-level results are released in August.

Mr Hargreaves said: “Ucas hasn’t released any official data yet but I have been told that over 10,000 applicants with predicted grades of BBB are not holding a firm offer at any university. That is really shocking. This is a big failure of information and advice.

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“We’ve been saying for the past decade that it is a buyer’s market but the environment has now changed, and Ucas and advisers in schools really need to be stressing that.”

Some Russell Group universities said they have increased their entrance requirements this year to limit the “risk of being oversubscribed” after they had taken in too many students during the two years of the Covid pandemic following a rise in applicants with high grades.

Prof Colin Riordan, the vice chancellor of Cardiff University, said: “It’s absolutely clear that this has been a competitive year for applicants. We’ve increased our entry requirements in areas at risk of being oversubscribed.”

Mike Nicholson, deputy head of education services at Cambridge University, said: “Most selective universities have been more cautious as they don’t want to get caught out for the third year in a row.”

Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute think tank, said that deferring applications to in-demand universities until next year also carries the risk of not getting a place. He said: “If this year’s applicants think they’ve got it tough, next year’s pressure could well be worse, as there will be more 18-year-olds again.

“Students and parents need to know that there are really good courses throughout the sector, and not just at the most prestigious universities.”