A-level results: Students ‘trade up’ their offers for places at UK’s most elite universities

Hundreds of teenagers reject conditional offers for the chance to study at country’s top institutions

Record numbers of teenagers who achieved better-than-expected A-level results have already “traded up” to take places at some of the UK’s most prestigious universities, official figures revealed yesterday.

In the first 24 hours after A-level results were published, 320 young people rejected their existing offers and opted for one of the country’s highest ranking universities instead, an increase of almost seven per cent on last year.

Many of these students are likely to come from disadvantaged backgrounds because research has shown that these candidates often lack the confidence to apply to elite universities before they have received their A-level grades. Although A-level results published on Thursday showed that overall the pass rate was down by 0.1 per cent, the proportion getting the top A* grades rose by 0.6 per cent.

This is a good year to be a student who performed better than expected – the Government has allowed universities to expand to take in as many students who have achieved at least ABB grades as they wish.  In addition, the total number of places available has risen by 30,000 this year as part of the shift towards the complete scrapping of the cap on student numbers in 2017.

A drop in the birth rate also meant that this summer’s cohort of 18 year olds is smaller than usual.

Prestigious universities that do not take part in the traditional Clearing system still have spaces for students who did better than expected. Members of the Russell Group – which represents 24 of the most selective universities in the UK – have joined the competition to recruit more of the brightest students.

University College London (UCL) had no places available through Clearing this year but yesterday had accepted 30 extra students who wanted to “trade up” after exceeding expectations.

The university had spaces on six of their courses for students with at least ABB grades who had done better than expected: ancient languages; anthropology; archaeology; geography; Hebrew and Jewish studies and modern languages.

A spokesman for UCL said: “Adjustment offers applicants the opportunity to change programme if their results have exceeded the conditions of their initial offer. UCL decided to make limited use of adjustment this year to offer places to well-qualified applicants who have performed above expectations on a few of our programmes with available places. So far we have accepted around 30 students under this process.”

Elite universities have become increasingly proactive at targeting the country’s brightest students and advertising the opportunity to “trade up”.

Sheffield University launched a “one better” campaign to persuade students to aim higher, and around 400 students signed up to the Sheffield scheme before getting their results. Professor Paul White, Deputy Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sheffield, said: “We hope the campaign can be a real opportunity for those who have done better than expected in their A Level exams to upgrade and study at a world-class university.

“Clearing has generally been perceived as a stressful scramble for places and a negative experience, but we want to turn it on its head – showing students it is an opportunity, not a disappointment.”

Other Russell Group universities to offer such places include Birmingham, Bristol, Durham, Glasgow, Kings College London, Leeds, Liverpool, Queen Mary’s London and Queen’s University Belfast.

The figures for those who “trade up” have more than tripled since the scheme was first introduced in 2009 when just 382 students took part to 1,220 last year.

Applications in numbers

412,170 people were accepted on to degree courses yesterday, up 3 per cent on the same point last year.

360,500 of those won places on their first choice of course, while 31,640 had places confirmed on their second or ‘insurance’ choice. A further 80,030 people are still waiting to have offers confirmed.

5,340 applicants found a place through clearing. This is  down slightly from 5,570 who had found courses this way at the same point last year.

162,430 students are currently eligible for clearing – the annual process that matches those without places with degrees that have vacancies. A total of 500,000 people are expected to eventually find a place to start university this autumn.

35,000  courses were on offer when clearing opened yesterday morning.

1,900 students bypassed the main admissions scheme and found places directly through clearing this year.

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