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A-level students face university setback

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 19 August 2010

Sixth-formers across much of the UK find out if they have made the grade to secure a spot at university, but despite a predicted rise in top results, students face a record battle for places.

Sixth-formers find out if they have made the A-level grade to secure a spot at university (Getty)

A-level students across England, Wales and Northern Ireland received exam results today with many finding that good grades do not necessarily guarantee a place at university.

More than 250,000 teenagers were expecting results predictions suggest that tens of thousands - including sixth-formers and mature students - could miss out due to a pressure on places.

A record 660,000 people had applied to start full-time undergraduate courses by the end of June. Only 482,000 places were awarded in 2009. Universities face a cap on places and fines if they over-recruit.

Many of the UK's top universities have warned they are already full, and the clearing process, which matches students with available courses, is expected to be short.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts has admitted that youngsters, many with top grades, face disappointment.

Vacancies available via clearing will be posted on the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) website from midnight tonight. It has also opened a phone line on 0871 468 0 468 and advice is available on the UCAS website.

Changes to A-levels come into effect this year, with the new A* grade due to be awarded for the first time. It has been estimated that one in 14 entries could be awarded the grade. The results are expected to show that more than one in four entries will be awarded an A grade.

Tips for those facing clearance:
If you are one of the unlucky 170,000 who fails to secure a university place, you can enter into the clearing process with UCAS (for more information on clearance click here). Prof Ebdon gives Channel 4 News his top tips:

1. Can you be flexible on your chosen subject? There may well be more vacancies in the 'stem' subjects of science, technology, maths and engineering.

2. Can you be flexible with location? There may be more places on offer for your chosen subject at another university.

3. Consider becoming a part-time student. Part-time students make up between 42-48 per cent of all students in the UK and are not subject to the government's 'cap'. You can combine a part-time Open University degree course with a part-time job.

4. Take a Gap Year, but make sure you do something useful to enhance your university application for next year. "Don't just wander around the world. Do something that develops your leadership, iniative and new skills - particularly the 'soft skills': interpersonal, communication skills, that school leavers often lack," Prof Ebdon said.

More tips and advice on clearance from the experts

Carl Gilleard, chief executive of the Association of Graduate Recruiters, said the clearing process would be "more stressful than ever". Students should consider their options before making any decision, he said.

"My advice for school leavers that feel university is the right route for them, but miss out on a place this year, is to consider getting some broader experience - either in the workplace or by volunteering - which will help strengthen their application to university next time around."

As well as the introduction of the new A* grade, this year's candidates have taken four modules instead of six and answered "stretch and challenge" questions designed to allow them to fully demonstrate their knowledge.

Scottish students received the results of their Highers and Standard Grade exams earlier this month. The record high results were slightly up to 74.6 per cent.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, warned against the annual debate about "dumbing down" that a rising pass rate brings.

"There is no evidence that this has happened," she said.

"With the shortage of university places and a job market that is severely affected by the recession, this year's cohort of A-level students face a very difficult future," Ms Blower added.

"The least anyone can do is commend their undoubted achievements and make sure that funding for higher education is a top priority."

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