Richard Garner: This bonus for high-flyers could cost the rest dearly

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The Independent Online

On the face of it, allowing unlimited expansion to universities if they recruit students with at least two A grades and a B grade at A-level would appear to be a good idea.

It will open up access at some of our most highly rated universities to more students who have achieved academic excellence in their exams.

Some academics argue that it will help students from disadvantaged communities who are more reluctant to apply to top universities until they have the results under their belt.

The trouble is that not all of our universities want to play ball. Oxford and Cambridge are happy to stay the size they are and will not be taking on any extra students – although Bristol and University College London will. So my guess is that there will be limited opportunities for those who enter the Clearing system with better-than-expected results.

Meanwhile, the "squeezed middle" – universities with a good track record but not quite at the top of the league tables – are fighting back, offering incentive after incentive to try to maintain the level of high-flyers they have attracted in past years.

It poses an interesting dilemma for students: do they take advantage of cut-price-degree offers or opt for the university place they may have always cherished on the grounds of the institution's prior academic record? I suspect many will stay with their original choice.

If we are serious about encouraging participation in higher education among disadvantaged communities, we need to pay heed to those people who may have struggled in poorly performing schools and therefore come out with lower A-level grades. The danger with the new system is that university admissions staff will be devoting so much energy to securing high-flyers that they will neglect this aspect.

Otherwise are we really saying that you have not succeeded at A-level unless you have obtained two As and a B?