Around 28,000 students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland who applied to go to university are without offers just days before A-level results are due to be published, according to data experts.
In what promises to be one of the most competitive university admissions rounds in recent memory, analysis by DataHE found that the total number of 18-year-olds who do not have an offer has increased from around 16,000 at this stage in the admissions process in 2019 to 27,850 in 2022 .
Some of the increase is due to the fact that there are more applicants than ever before, but experts say it is also likely to have been driven by a rise in rejection rates and more conservative offers from high-fee institutions looking to rein in. recruitment after the excesses of the pandemic.
According to Mark Corver, the founder of DataHE, the risk of applicants not having a single offer at this point has increased from 6% to 9% in two years, a 50% jump proportionally, back to levels last seen then the universities had to stay within the number of controls.
“This will feel like quite a shock after nearly a decade of steadily improving odds of getting an offer,” Corver said.
His warning came as England’s exam regulator Ofqual and university admissions service Ucas sent out an unprecedented letter to all A-level students to try to reassure them, as tensions mount ahead of results day on Thursday.
The letter says almost 300,000 UK 18-year-olds have a fixed offer, up 7,000 from last year and the highest on record, with 30,000 courses available in clearing.
However, there is still great uncertainty. After two years of higher-than-average grades during the pandemic – when exams were canceled and work was graded by the teacher – the government asked regulators to set limits so grades would be halfway between those in 2019 and 2021, with grades set to revert to pre – pandemic levels in 2023.
Last week it was reported that tens of thousands of A-level students with offers from their preferred university could be at risk of losing their places due to an estimated 10 percentage point drop in the number of A and A* grades in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
After record results last year, when 44.8% of grades were either A or A* at A level, experts in the sector calculate that with the government recalibration this will drop to 35% (up from 25.5% in 2019).
While almost one in five (19.1%) grades were A* last year, this year the proportion is expected to drop to 13.5%. Similarly, the number of A* to C grades is expected to fall from 88.5% in 2021 to 82%.
Corver said students, even those without offers, shouldn’t be overly anxious. “Places are there, but they may be at universities or for subjects that may not have been on the applicant’s initial shortlist and may need some research and flexibility to take advantage of.”
Universities that received A-level results on Friday night confirmed that there is still capacity, but they warn that clearing will be busy and that students may have to consider related subjects and alternative institutions to secure a place.
Meanwhile, Ucas Data disputed HE’s analysis – which is based on Ucas data on the number of students “free to be placed in clearing”.
Clare Marchant, Uca’s chief executive, said a record number of 18-year-olds applied this year and the data showed more than 97% of those students received at least one offer, which was also a record.
“There are many reasons why students are qualified to find a place in the clearing. In some cases, students, who are extremely savvy and constantly considering their options, increasingly see scavenging as a great alternative to finding a place.
“The vast majority of universities and colleges will have courses available this week and my advice to students without a place is to continue with your research and contact Ucas if you need support while clearing.”
Alix Delaney, head of admissions at the University of East Anglia, said: “We expect it to be a very busy clearing with lots of activity and many universities with vacancies.
– Although there may be some disappointment for those who have applied for highly competitive courses, I believe there is still capacity in the entire system for students to find a place at a university, should they wish to study in September.
“They may just need to think about related courses, subjects or alternative universities.”
The Ministry of Education was contacted for comment.