British Universities Accept More Students With Low Grades

Some fear that institutions are too focused on tuition revenue.

December 14, 2018

The proportion of British students being accepted to university courses with lower school-leaving grades is at one of its highest rates ever, according to a report from the country’s admissions body.

Data released by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) show that 84 percent of applicants who achieved grades equivalent to CCC at A level, or lower, gained a higher education place this year, up five percentage points since 2013. For those with A-level points equivalent to DDD, the acceptance rate tipped past 80 percent.

There is a similar trend for applicants taking other qualifications such as Business and Technology Education Council (BTEC) schools: acceptance rates for students who received three BTEC passes have risen from below 50 percent in 2013 to 70 percent this year.

The figures follow controversy over the ballooning use of unconditional offers -- where students are guaranteed a place regardless of what grades they achieve in exams -- which a separate UCAS analysis released last month showed was now at a record level.

That analysis also suggested that unconditional offers were being made at increasing rates to those with lower predicted grades, while there was also further evidence that those holding such an offer were more likely to miss their forecast grade profile.

According to the latest UCAS report, the share of applicants over all who missed their predicted A levels by three or more grades has gone up 3.3 percentage points since 2017, and 11.5 percentage points since 2013.

And placed applicants with lower grade profiles have, on average, a larger difference between their achieved and predicted grades, the figures show.

All the data are likely to be seized on by critics of the current system, with some believing that universities that are under pressure to fill places and maintain tuition income are accepting too many students with lower grades.

Clare Marchant, UCAS chief executive, said that while many applicants were accepted on the strength of factors such as interviews or personal statements, universities “must be mindful of accepting applicants with lower grades” and such students “must be appropriately supported during their studies, so they can flourish on their chosen course.”

She added that UCAS was also “working with schools and universities to improve the accuracy of predicted grades, exploring the different ways teachers make predictions, and how they are used by admissions teams when making offers,” with a “good practice guide” due to be published in the new year.

Elsewhere, a separate chapter of the report reveals that although the proportion of British 18-year-olds entering higher education continues to rise over all, there has been a fall in the entry rate for some regions for the first time since tuition fees rose.

In the east of England, the northeast, and Yorkshire and the Humber, there was a drop in the share of 18-year-olds entering higher education of between 0.1 and 0.7 percentage points compared with last year. “These decreases come after five years of consistent entry rate increases for every region of England from 2012 to 2017,” the report says.

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