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

4 reader comments

  1. Kate says:

    “Who’d be 18 again?”

    Interesting question, Jackie – at one time, it’d be rhetorical perhaps but now?
    Yes,like you and before you, I was,in retrospect, privileged to have gone through my student times and youth at a time of relative freedom from financial worries and the difficulties of finding employment at the end of my studies. In fact, I remember at my first interview how plentiful jobs were – I was offered one in four locations and I picked which one I wanted!

    Now,of course, I am wondering what motivation there is for anyone even to undertake tertiary study.

    We have young graduates in the family unable to find other than short term contract office work – filing jobs,etc. with no promise of being kept on beyond their 3 or 6 mths or no openings in their chosen specialism.
    A measure of how desperate the situation is is that one of the graduates is hoping like mad that her co-worker gets pregnant soon so that she will be kept on to cover maternity leave. This seems her best option! Ridiculous, no?
    And all this with a mountain of debt around their necks.

    It angers me when unemployment figures are released announcing a reduction. You can’t call any of this type of work a proper job but of course, it suits the government’s purpose.

    As if all that isn’t dispiriting enough, the young are asked to work for months on end without remuneration – “work experience” is the euphemism currently used.

    Had a wry laugh at Dave Willett’s recent announcement that “more will get their first choice” in University selection. That’s one way of sweetening the bitter pill of admitting tuition fees are putting people off.

    Would I wish to be 18 again? Honestly, no.

    1. Mohamad says:

      Kick the tires and light the fires, prolbem officially solved!

  2. Philip Edwards says:



    The “A” stands for “additional debt.”

    Here’s an idea: research where the student loans come from, what the total loans are and who profits from them. You could also check out the parallel situation in the USA and Chile – in the latter case, only if you can get through government police and army lines to talk to protesting students.

    It would be a public service if you could do this. No other mainstream public TV news has bothered….I wonder why?

  3. Robert Taggart says:

    Makes us glad to be ‘dim’ !

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