Students should prepare ‘back-up plan’ in case they miss out on university place

Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK, has advised school leavers to do some preparation ahead of A-level results day.

Anxious students awaiting their A-level results should prepare a “back-up” plan in case they miss out on a place at their preferred institution, a university sector chief has said.

Hundreds of thousands of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland will receive their exam results on Thursday, with many finding out whether they have got their first choice university.

Vivienne Stern, chief executive of Universities UK (UUK), advised students to do some “preparation” ahead of A-level results day to ensure they know how to use clearing in case they need to find an alternative university place.

She told the PA news agency: “For most students you’re going to get your first or insurance offer, but it’s a good idea to have a back-up plan.”

A rising number of 18-year-olds in the population has made the university admissions system “competitive” this year and this trend is expected to continue in the years to come, Ms Stern said.

At some top universities, the number of courses listed as available on the Ucas clearing site the day before A-level results day has fallen compared with the same point last week, PA analysis suggests.

Clearing is available to students who do not meet the conditions of their offer on A-level results day, as well as those who did not receive any offers.

Students who have changed their mind about what or where they wish to study, and also those who have applied outside the normal application window, can also use the process.

Speaking to PA on Wednesday, Ms Stern said: “For those people who are nervous today and are anxious about what tomorrow might bring, there’s still good time to make sure you’re really well prepared for the possibility that if you don’t make your first or insurance offer you know how to to make a decision based on all the opportunities that will be out there through clearing.”

With less than 24 hours to go until results are released, a PA sample of 130 of the UK’s largest higher education providers showed there were 22,521 courses with vacancies for undergraduate students living in England.

A similar analysis last year, carried out by PA the day before A-level results day, showed there were 22,685 courses with vacancies on the clearing site – which is slightly more than the number of courses listed at the same point this year.

As of Wednesday morning, Edinburgh University, a member of the Russell Group, which represents some of the most prestigious UK institutions, had just one course listed as available in clearing, compared with 19 a week ago.

Meanwhile, King’s College London (KCL) had five courses listed, compared with 14 on Wednesday last week.

A University of Edinburgh spokesman said: “Entry to the University of Edinburgh is competitive and every year we seek to attract the brightest minds from Scotland, the rest of the UK, and internationally.

“We are committed to fostering a diverse academic community and limited places are open in some areas where we have capacity.”

Overall, 16 of the 24 Russell Group universities had vacancies on courses for English residents – a total of 2,171 courses between them on the day before A-level results day, a slight rise from 2,021 a week ago.

The University of Liverpool, which had no courses listed on the Ucas clearing site on Wednesday last week, now has 170 listed, which partly explains the rise in the number of courses available across the Russell Group.

Durham University, which had no courses listed on the clearing site on Wednesday morning, plans to offer places to “approximately 150 well-qualified home students” through clearing on A-level results day.

In England, exams regulator Ofqual has said this year’s national A-level results will be lower than last year but they are expected to be similar to those before the pandemic.

It comes after Covid-19 led to an increase in top A-level grades in 2020 and 2021, with results based on teacher assessments instead of exams.

Ms Stern said: “One of the things that’s happened this year is, because Ofqual has been quite clear about the grading profile, universities actually increased their offer rates, so they made more offers, because they had a greater sense of clarity about how grades were going to be distributed.

“That might mean in some cases they’ve got fewer places going into clearing.”

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