CEO Blog: A-levels not the end of the admissions story

13 Aug 2015

Studying at university is one of the best choices that anyone can make. New confidences, new knowledge, new friendships but also the know-how to manage an ever-changing jobs market – these are all the things and more that you will get from university.

Unsurprisingly, A-level results day is dominated by media shots and interviews with younger students opening envelopes. Jumps for joy and shrugs of disappointment are all broadcast live.

This year is unlikely to be any different. It will be competitive. There will inevitably be questions about whether exams were marked correctly or were too hard. Not all students will get into their first choice of course or university. There will be opportunities in clearing – that’s what it’s for. After a flurry of activity and decisions there will then be a longer haul as universities and students continue to engage up to enrolment.

In fact universities and potential students will have often been engaged with each other for a long time. Open days, visits, direct liaison using social media as well as through schools and colleges are all part and parcel of the process. And yes, these days students can even expect to get offers via Facebook and twitter.

There has been much talk of the impact of the government’s decision to allow universities in England to recruit as many students as they like. In truth, the initial impact is likely to be much less than some have predicted. There are a finite number of qualified younger students and the majority of them already choose to study for a degree. There will be no big bang or explosion of opportunities but like any new market (the description now commonly applied to higher education) some players will try to game the system.

Some universities have made many more unconditional offers to students before A-level results were known. Unconditional offers are nothing new but universities have to be equipped to support students whose actual A-level grades fall below those which they would normally require.

A-level results day is neither the beginning nor the end of the admissions story. Students in Scotland got their Scottish Higher results and university places weeks ago. The majority of students today have a vocational qualification like a BTEC as well as an A-level. Some students will enter university with an Access to HE qualification with results later in the month. Others may have to wait for GCSE grades to finally secure a place on the course of their choice. Many will choose to study in the region or locality in which they live.

Some potential students will take gap years, go into the workplace or make lifestyle choices often related to care responsibilities and have already decided not to apply to university. Others will step back onto the educational ladder in their twenties and thirties, often studying part-time for A-levels or other qualifications that will open up opportunities to study at university later in life.

The real prize of lifting the cap on numbers would be to raise the participation of these first-time students who are older, others who want to study part-time and those who have already studied for a university qualification but who want to return and upgrade their knowledge and skills. This will need much more than lifting the cap on numbers. Through its November Spending Review, the government has the chance to capitalise on the opportunities for participation that it has created by adding some much needed icing to the cake. This will require new thinking to be brought to the higher education table. In September we shall be doing just that.

In the meantime, many congratulations to all of those students who have their grades and commiserations to those who are disappointed. As ever, keep calm and explore the choices available.

Whatever your results you will all be wise enough now to dismiss the old-fashioned idea that you have to study at a small number of universities to get on. Britain has a world-class higher education system with high quality teaching and excellent research in all universities with modern universities at the cutting edge in terms of combining study with real-life work experiences and projects. You’re the future. What’s not to like?


For more higher education news and views follow Pam on twitter: @millionplusCEO