By Gareth Evans
The number of students being accepted by Welsh universities has fallen after a drop in top A-level grades, official figures show. Data released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) revealed there were 1,298 fewer students winning entry into Welsh higher education than at the same time last year.
In the latest snapshot of 2012 trends, there were 18,474 successful applications from UK and overseas students to universities in Wales – down from 19,772 in 2011. The 6.6% drop is worse only in England, where numbers fell by 8.5% from 338,337 to 309,483. The public purse will ensure Welsh learners continue to pay around £3,400 for their studies next month, despite a trebling of tuition fees.
But a marked fall in the number of learners winning places will be of concern to Education Minister Leighton Andrews, who is relying on a favourable cross-border flow to keep costs down. The Welsh Government has calculated that it will take around 24,000 English learners studying in Wales to mitigate money spent on 16,000 Welsh undergraduates going the other way.
The controversial fee policy – estimated to cost in the region of £1bn over the life of the Assembly – will protect students ordinarily resident in Wales wherever in the UK they choose to study. Shadow Education Minister Angela Burns said the tuition fee policy had been rushed through “without doing the maths or working out how it would work in practice.”
She added: “If the greatest proportion of the decline in applications to Welsh universities is from full-fee paying English students, this makes it very difficult for the Welsh Government to balance the books.
“Last year, the drop in English-domiciled students studying in Wales was almost three times the drop in Welsh-domiciled students applying to study in England, resulting in a double blow to the affordability of Labour’s tuition fees policy.”
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of students were yesterday still waiting to hear if they had secured a university place after figures revealed a fall in top A grades. According to Ucas, 79,627 people were still waiting on decisions, up from 78,141 at the same point last year. Overall, some 367,369 people who were holding offers had been accepted by universities after meeting the entry requirements.
A further 4,166 students had gained places through “clearing” – the process that matches students who are not holding offers, or who have missed their required grades, to vacant courses. In total, 170,198 people were eligible for clearing, a fall from 195,415 applicants who could enter the process in 2011. Universities across Wales were last night still reporting vacancies, though places were being snapped up fast.
At Cardiff University, the nation’s Russell Group institution, courses in journalism and social science were among a select few available.
A spokesman said: “Our message to students still looking for places for 2012 entry is to contact us immediately as the picture is changing minute by minute and our remaining places are in great demand.”
Swansea Metropolitan University received hundreds of phone calls and more than 1,300 website hits on exam results day. The university is still open for business along with Aberystwyth, which entered clearing for the first time in three years and reported 2,000 calls from prospective students. It said courses in maths, physics, psychology and sport science were among those proving most popular.
Aberystwyth’s pro vice-chancellor Professor Martin Jones said: “The key to clearing success is to be organised, obtain as much information as possible as quickly as possible, and to ask for help.
“Keep a clear head and use some of the many sources now available to assist at this stressful time. We particularly recommend the Ucas clearing website.” A spokesman for the Welsh Government said it was too early to speculate on the Ucas data.
“The Welsh Government remains committed to preserving the principle that the state will subsidise higher education and that’s why we’ve put in place what we believe is the most equitable student finance system we’ve ever created,” he added.