By Julie Henry
Leading universities faced with a fall in applications are accepting students who achieve well below their required A-level grades.
Sixth formers who would have lost their places in previous years have benefited from a combination of factors which have allowed tutors to give them a more sympathetic hearing. A drop of 8 per cent in applications across the country, blamed on this year’s rise in tuition fees, has left some universities chasing students.
At the same time, some have expanded the number of places on offer to take advantage of a new rule allowing unlimited recruitment of students with grades of AAB or over. A slight dip in national A-level results, including a fall in the proportion of entries graded A or A*, has also meant more leniency with borderline candidates.
At University College London, a Russell Group member and ranked in the top ten of universities worldwide, applicants have been accepted despite dropping a grade from the three As they were asked for. One sixth former who was offered a place to read history conditional on achieving three A grades, yet only managed an A and two Bs, was nevertheless allowed to keep his place.
The university, which has expanded its undergraduate intake by 250 this year, said the lifting of the cap for AAB students and a drop in results overall had given it more leeway to admit candidates who had fallen short of their initial offer.
“In previous years we would have rejected most, if not all, such students,” a spokesman said. “This year, the AAB rule has allowed institutions like UCL the flexibility to increase its numbers.
“UCL does not use clearing and any spare capacity is taken by applicants who have already made a commitment to UCL by accepting an offer of admission from us earlier in the process.”
Cardiff University, another Russell Group member, also accepted candidates who fell short of their original offer. One pupil whose entry requirement was set at three A grades secured her place with one A and two Cs.
The university had around 300 more undergraduate places to fill this year compared to last. In addition, there were 300 fewer applicants deferring, as the majority of students offered places last year took them up immediately to avoid the first year of £9,000 tuition fees.
Other Russell Group universities taking on sixth formers who would have been rejected in previous years include King’s College, London, and Southampton University. The latter has suffered a slump in recruitment of about 600 students because some of the AAB students it expected to attract were taken by other universities, such as Bristol which has expanded by 600.
Don Nutbeam, Southampton’s vice-chancellor, said the drop in student numbers was a “wake-up call”.
Tim Hands, the master of Magdalen College School, in Oxford, and chairman-elect of the Headmasters and Headmistresses Conference, said: “The effect of the changes this year – the AAB policy and the drop in national results – seems to have been that after a short period of intense anxiety for pupils, their universities of choice have been willing to accept them.
“By and large, people have got to the right destinations, even if they have dropped a grade.” (The Telegraph)