A Levels and university entrance
19 Aug 2010
It's interesting to note how many of those newspapers and commentators which decried the 50% university participation target in the past are now working themselves up into a lather of indignation over young people being denied a place this year.
Judging by their past rhetoric, they should be celebrating the fact that university entrance has become more competitive and that not everyone will be heading towards our campuses.
Instead, they have picked up the parental anxiety of their readership and conveniently forgotten their past opposition to university expansion.
Like so many summer education stories, this has been over-played. (Like for example all the headlines about a 0.1% percentage point increase in the A Level pass-rates...how many other topics would be considered so newsworthy with such a small increase?).
UCAS figures show that 383,230 students have been offered a place. This is some 10,000 more than at this time last year, when the figure was just over 372,620.
It is true that there are more applicants eligible for clearing (183,000 compared to 135,000), so there will be more disappointed applicants. But remember the increase in applications includes overseas students, and re-applications as well as UK-based school leavers.
Remember too that every year, for some years, there have been a large number of applicants who did not get in (if everyone got in there would be the usual outcry about university being too easy and standards being lowered).
In fact, last year 158,000 candidates were left without a place. This year it will be higher but it is worth remembering that every year large numbers do not get in. This is not a new phenomenon. As in the past, some of those who do not make it this year will reapply and get in the following year.
Of course, there would be 10,000 more places if the coalition government had not halved Labour's plans to create an extra 20,000 places. Mind you, that increase - made in the dying days of the last government - came too late for many universities to implement and it never looked to be fully funded for the long term.
As for the usual questions about A levels being too easy, people forget that the current system will - logically - lead to virtually a 100% pass-rate. That is because the AS level provides a half-way marker. So, if students are not on course for a pass, they (or their school/college) will ensure they do not continue just to fail at A2.
Would we really want students to plough on for a second year only to fail?
Meanwhile, let's not forget the Advanced Diploma students who also achieved their results today. They have worked hard for their pioneering qualifications but must now be worried by the government's lack of enthusiasm for diplomas.