In some cases universities are asking applicants for three As and Bs where they would have asked for just two Cs 30 years ago. The increase in grades required for some subjects almost doubles the number of points required on the A-level scoring system devised by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.
Physics students were asked for an average of just two Cs at A-level in 1970; today universities want anything from CCC to BBB. Applicants for medicine were asked to get an average three Cs in 1970, compared with today when offers range from ABB to straight As.
The remarkable rise in university entrance requirements is outlined by the author Brian Heap. His latest book, a 620-page guide to offers for entry to university in 2000, was published yesterday.
Applicants asked for interviews are also subjected to intense questioning, according to the book, Degree Course Offers 2000. One student hoping to read history was asked to outline the similarities between Cromwell and Mussolini.
Vice-chancellors and teachers said the figures were proof that the standard of A-level candidates was as high as ever. In 1970, the A-level pass rate was 68.6 per cent, compared with 88.2 per cent last year.
Educationists believe the annual rise in A-level pass rates over recent years is due to the huge expansion of higher education and increasing competition for popular courses at well-known universities. In 1968, 110,000 students applied to university, with about 54,000 gaining a place. Last year applications to university - now including the former polytechnics - totalled 446,000 and nearly 330,000 gained a place.
Professor Martin Harris is vice-chancellor of Manchester University and chairs the Com-mittee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals. He said: "This proves just how hard students have to work to get into popular courses at popular institutions, although of course A-level grades are not the only indicator that people are suitable to follow a university degree. Students who achieve these A-level grades are at least as good as their predecessors 30 years ago, maybe better."
Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Liverpool University, said: "It does give the lie to the fact that doing A-levels is getting easier. Actually it's getting tougher."
t Thousands of candidates sitting GCSE and A-level examinations this month will be able to see their marked papers for the first time.
Ministers believe the experiment will reduce the number of pupils appealing against the grades they are awarded in the exams by confronting them with their mistakes. The Government also wants to make marking procedures more open.
The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has prepared pilot schemes for England, Wales and Northern Ireland. GCSE candidates in 200 schools and colleges will be entitled to inspect their exam scripts. For some, all the papers will be returned to their school; others will be able to look at them in exam board offices.
A-level candidates in 1,000 schools and colleges will also be able to collect photocopies of marked scripts in 10 subjects.