The university admissions system is unfair. It helps those applicants who have the correct predicted grades (regardless of whether those grades are good or bad). And it ultimately lets down those students whose grade predictions are wrong, even if they achieve great grades in the end. This gamble is surely the antithesis of a fair admissions system and it has to change.
As the demand for university places continues to grow, the number of disappointed applicants who don’t get placed has surged to 186,000 this year. Overall, the number of applicants has risen dramatically from 481,854 last year to 674,000, and the penalties for universities that exceed their intake quota has only heightened the competition for fewer places.
In the past, prospective undergraduates who didn’t achieve their first or second choices have been reassured by the clearing ‘safety net’. And even then, some students who would fall just short of the required entry grades were helped over the line to secure a place. But sadly, due to the exceptional demand for remaining places this year, many capable young people have been denied the opportunity of a place at university. And by failing to strategically utilise their UCAS insurance place they have ended up with nothing. Had these applicants targeted an insurance course with lower grade requirements, they would have had a more realistic chance of attaining at least their second choice. This must serve as a warning for future applicants, and perhaps it should be the responsibility of UCAS to highlight the purpose of the insurance choice more emphatically.
I consider myself fortunate not having to rely on clearing. I achieved the required grades for a BEng (Hons) course in Civil Engineering at Strathclyde University, and my unconditional offer made my sixth year at school much more enjoyable and less stressful. Those who have successfully attained a university place should be congratulated, but what about the 186,000 who weren’t as fortunate? In particular, where does this leave those who achieved grades high enough to merit entry on to a range of courses?
It’s all very well suggesting that these students take a Gap year, or choose an alternative college course, or even reapply the following year; but these are often considered to be second best options, especially for students who achieved ‘A’ grades. This pool of unsuccessful applicants bears no relationship with meritocracy, but rather the gamble of university and course choice, based on predicted grades.
Now consider how bitter those unsuccessful applicants must feel when they learn that the UK average drop-out rate after the first year in 2009 was 8%. The situation in Scotland was even worse where of the 29,625 degree entrants, 9.9% dropped out by the end of the first year*. The void left by an excess of 2,900 students leaving the system in Scotland alone obviously leaves spare course capacity. Shouldn’t the government acknowledge this growing drop-out rate and allow universities to accommodate those who have been turned away from higher education?
While demand continues to exceed supply year on year, and drop-out rates persist, surely the government could adopt a more flexible approach to the university admission policy. I think that if the government allowed universities to offer drop-out contingency placing to exceptional students who had failed to gain a place it would increase the opportunities that are available and enable the UK skills base to grow. Why should the university doors be slammed in the face of those who have worked hard and have been encouraged to stay within the education system by the government?
*Source – www.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/education/8083373.stm