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A-level results: UK universities fight for the best students

In the UK, thousands of secondary school graduates have probably marked 15 August as their personal D-Day, after the much awaited publication of the A-level results. These are generally required for admission to higher education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and also offered and accepted in Scotland as an alternative school-leaving qualification. Whereas applications to universities in the UK are often due in January, the late publication of the A-level results in August reshuffles the pack. On the one hand, some students do not meet the requirements for their admission, while on the other hand a lucky few score better than expected and even exceed their conditional offers, allowing them to look for a more prestigious university.

This situation entails fierce competition among UK universities to recruit new students. Competition has even been increased by the government’s decision to allow  universities to admit an unlimited number of applicants having achieved ABB grades in their A-levels. Even the UK’s most famous Russell Group universities are not excluded from this competition. Quite the contrary: these elite universities are the most engaged in the fight for the best students,  trying to attract applicants for their vacant places through financial incentives such as waiving part of the tuition fees or offering free accommodation at the university campus. The number of prospective students with A-level scores exceeding those of their conditional offers and who wish to take their chance at a more prestigious university is, however, rather low. So far, only 1 240 have entered this procedure called ‘adjustment’. In contrast, the more unfortunate ones who find themselves not offered any place among their five preferred choices enter a procedure called ‘clearing’. Until now, 32 960 candidates received a university place through these means. The whole process is managed by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the body in charge of all UK university admissions.

The expansion of access to higher education in the UK over the last decades, as well as in many other countries around the world, has slightly changed the traditional ‘balance of power’ in higher education: it is not only prospective students competing for the best universities anymore, but also universities competing for the best students.

UCAS - Data analysis