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A-Level results day – a few thoughts on what to look out for

  • 14 August 2014

Good luck to everyone getting their A-Level results today – and, remember, if you haven’t got the results you hoped for, there is lots of information available and there are other opportunities out there.

This is a big year in terms of university entrance because the Government is starting to roll out its policy of removing student number controls. In essence, this means universities have more freedom than last year (but less than next year) to recruit full-time undergraduates before the dreaded fines for over-recruitment (£8,000 a year per student) kick in. (HEPI has just published a pamphlet on how the policy of removing student number controls worked when it was implemented in Australia.)

In policy terms, there are various interesting things to look out for. Here’s five:

1. What has happened to the top grades at A-Level? This matters because universities face no controls over how many students they may recruit with A-Level grades or equivalent of ABB (or better), and the limits below ABB are partly set with reference to how many As and Bs have been predicted. If the predictions are wrong, this can disrupt the system – though in truth this is less of a problem this year because the number controls below ABB have been relaxed.

2. How many people are ‘trading up’ via the adjustment period? The adjustment period allows you to change your choice if you’ve done better than expected. Many people feel this facility has not really lived up to its potential since it was introduced a few years ago under the previous Government. The problem was that it was introduced just as universities came to have their numbers more tightly controlled, so there wasn’t much space left for people wishing to trade up. Now that number caps are being relaxed, there may be more options for people who want to use the adjustment period – but will people have the qualifications and the desire (and the understanding of the process) to do so?

3. How many of the extra 30,000 places will get filled? As part of the relaxation of student number controls, the Government claims it will fund up to 30,000 extra full-time undergraduates places this year. Many people think that not all the places will get filled, but the independent Browne review that reported in 2010 predicted that around 20,000-30,000 qualified people each year fail to get a place and others have come to a similar conclusion. How many of the 30,000 places get filled will tell us something about the level of unmet demand in the system, which will be something of a guide to future years too – when there will supposedly be 60,000 extra funded places.

4. How many students are recruited by alternative providers? Alternative providers are those not funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England but their students can typically get student loans and grants and some places at alternative providers are available through UCAS and clearing. Historically, alternative providers have been allowed to recruit as many students as they like. This year, they have had number controls imposed on them – just as they are being lifted for others. Exactly how many students they recruit and how much public money they receive won’t be known until the smoke clears long after results’ day, but the answer will tell us something about the level of diversity in higher education.

5. What impact will the extra uncertainty of 2015 have? Between this application round for 2014/15 entry and the start of the following academic year in autumn 2015, there will be a general election and a spending review. As a result, there is a level of uncertainty about the medium-term. This could conceivably change institutions’ behaviour – if, for example, they think that the Coalition’s commitment to remove student number controls in 2015/16 is unlikely to occur in practice, this could alter their recruitment behaviour in 2014/15.

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