The number of students who have dropped out of the race for a university place has soared this year with rising fees being blamed for the increase. The latest figures from Ucas, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, show they have gone up by 18 per cent compared with the same period in 2011 – from 7,001 to 8,256.
Academics believe the rise is likely to be down to applicants being reluctant to shell out a possible £9,000 a year for a "second best" option. If they cannot gain admission to their first-choice course, they would prefer to seek other options rather than go to university.
"The increase in dropouts is very worrying," said Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union. "I wouldn't be surprised if the prospect of higher fees played a key part in people's decision-making. We have had a huge slump in university applications this year and it doesn't take a genius to work out that asking people to take on record debts is going to make them more risk averse."
Despite the rise in the drop-out rate, latest figures show there are still around 170, 000 candidates chasing an estimated 50,000 places through clearing. In excess of 100,000 are likely to be disappointed at the end of the clearing process.
Those with two A-grade passes and a B grade are in the box seat when it comes to snapping up places. Ministers have set aside 20,000 places to allow all universities to expand their student numbers provided they recruit AAB students. The policy change has led to a tripling of the number of students "trading up" after receiving their A-level results. Ucas allows a breathing space of about a week for those students who have got better results than expected to pursue a place at a more highly rated university.
Some candidates are reluctant to pursue places at the more elite universities until they have got their results in the bag, it is argued. In the past, they have been restricted from doing so because the places have not been available. This year, though, in the first 24 hours following the release of the A-level results, a total of 353 candidates "traded up" compared with only 128 last year.
Meanwhile, following last week's A-level results – which showed the biggest drop in the percentage of A grades awarded in the history of the exam (0.4 percentage points) – the spotlight turns on to GCSE's this week. Results there, too, are likely to be pegged close to last year's levels.