Grades slashed to fill science courses

Some of Britain's most prestigious universities have been forced to slash A-level requirements for science degrees by up to four grades as they struggle to fill unpopular courses.

Five out of the 20 Russell Group universities – the UK's research-intensive institutions – have lowered the grades required to obtain places on science courses through clearing.

A few places are available at Leeds, Manchester and Nottingham. Liverpool had vacancies in science, engineering and computing but has filled its places. Birmingham reduced the requirements in order to fill vacancies in science, engineering, social science and nursing but is now full.

But there have been some great opportunities for students who failed to get their grades to still win places at some leading universities. Three C grades could have been enough to study chemistry at Leeds – significantly lower than the typical offer of ABB made to applicants through the normal process.

At Birmingham, students with BCC grades could win places on an electronic and electrical engineering course, which would normally have required at least three B grades.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of Buckingham University's Centre for Education and Employment Research, said: "If it's biting Russell Group universities then it shows really how serious we should be taking the shortage of students in science and maths." He blamed the decision 20 years ago to allow students to study "double science" at GCSE rather than separate exams.

The Government said that the number of students starting science, maths and engineering courses this autumn had risen by 6 per cent.