Fewer students to seek university places through clearing this year


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The Independent Online

Fewer students are likely to seek university places through clearing this year- making it hard for the “squeezed middle” universities to fill their places, according to research published today.

It says today’s teenagers are choosier about the courses and universities they select as a result of rising fees.

The report, from SKOPE at Oxford University, says sixth-formers regard the cost of going to university as a “significant investment” and feel it important to embark on a course only if it is “worth it”. It comes just 24 hours before 250,000 students receive their A-level results.

“All the indications are that, under the new arrangements for fees and funding, prospective undergraduates will be very selective when applying to university,” said researcher Dr Helen Carasso.

“This may mean fewer of the are willing to go through the clearing process and accept an offer of a course or institution that was not on their original short-list”.

Those who just miss out on top A-level passes - i.e two A grades and a B - are also unlikely to be able to squeeze in under “near miss” arrangements available at selective universities in past years, too.

This is as a result of the Government allowing universities to expand student numbers but only if they take in those with A,A,B’s or above.

Many of the more selective universities are expected to be able to entice high-flyers away from the middle-ranking ones as a result- thus making it more difficult for less selective universities to fill places

The good news, though, according to researchers, is that drop-out rates are likely to fall as students feel they must commit to their courses because of the size of the investment they have put in to them.

The researchers interviewed 723 sixth-formers at schools in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire areas.

It found that men were more confident than women that they would become high earners as a consequence of getting a degree - 22.2 per cent thought they would earn a starting salary of more than £30,000 compared with just 12.8 per cent of women.

One in five, though, said they did not expect to pay back their full student debts.  The percentage was higher (30.3 per cent) amongst those seeking places at post-1992 universities (former polytechnics) than those applying to the Russell Group (15.2 per cent), which represents the country’s most selective universities.

When it came to debt, 24 per cent of men and 23.1 per cent of women expected to owe more than £40,000 by the time they left university.

Some participants acknowledged their parents had been saving for years towards the cost of their university education “and were conscious that the new fees meant this would not make as much difference as the parents had hoped”.

“This created a feeling of responsibility to acknowledge the parents’ effort, resulting in ‘higher stakes’ attached to the decision whether or not to go on to higher education,” it added.

Despite the costs, though, students still believed leaving home to study was an important part of the student experience.

SKOPE is a research centre established by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council based at Oxford University.