16 Aug 2012

Does the ‘A’ in A-level now stand for anxiety?

A-level day in the Long household in 1982. A predictably tense time. My mother chain-smoking in the kitchen (well it was the early eighties) my father manically hoovering in what we called the “front room”. When we eventually heard the clatter of the postbox, Dad dropped the hoover and said something unrepeatable on a national news website and we all rushed to the door.

There were no stars attached but the grades got me to university. No worries about tuition fees: a full grant and a part-time job throughout the three years left me almost well off – well off enough for a world tour. (It only lasted three weeks after me and my best friend, Janet McArdle, managed to spend all our money. In truth neither of us cracked that exchange rate thing – Faisal will be appalled)

Even after our abortive bit of Jules Verne-ery, I managed to find full time work straight away.

Hundreds and thousands of students whose long wait for the clatter of their letterbox has ended today, face a very different era.

These days perhaps the “A” in A-level stands for anxiety?

Getting the grades is getting that little bit harder. For the first time in two decades the proportion of A-levels at top grades – A and A* – has fallen, albeit not by much. It’s down from 27 per cent last year to 26.6 per cent this.

And of course this is the first time students face a bill for tuition fees of up to £9,000. The admissions service Ucas says there’s been a drop in the number of students already accepted onto university courses by 7 per cent. But the government insists that’s not all down to tuition fees.

Why the drop in university applications?

Certainly demographics is a factor – there are declining numbers of 18-year-olds. The actual rate of applications among 18-year-olds though is at its second highest level ever.

It’s thought that some of the drop in applications is down to significant numbers of potential mature students having to make harsh choices in the current climate. Leaving a job to go back to school may just look too risky right now.

For those students who will be heading for freshers week, the prospect of three years of university life may well be coloured by the reality of a big bill to pay as and when they start work.

Oh yes work. With graduate unemployment teetering at around 25 per cent – almost the same as for those who leave straight after A-levels – it’s not a pretty picture.

Who’d be 18 again?

Tweets by @jackielongc4