A Level Results Bring Scramble And Uncertainty

A Level Results

The Huffington Post UK   First Posted: 18/08/11 06:58 Updated: 17/10/11 11:12

Hundreds of thousands of students received their A-Level results this morning, with one in 12 gaining an A* as top grades rose for another year.

But what should be a happy day for many 18 year-olds will overshadowed by a chronic shortage of university places and a looming row about whether the government is making it more difficult for bright students from less privileged backgrounds to get a good degree.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) said on Thursday morning that 185,000 candidates are chasing 29,000 unfilled places through clearing.

Any student who missed their expected grades faces a significant challenge gaining a place at university through the official 'clearing' process. Reports said this year's clearing could be the toughest-ever, partly because many students who might have taken gap years have chosen to go straight to university this year, to avoid the significant rise in tuition fees in 2012.

UCAS even developed an iPhone app to help cope with the thousands of disappointed students who will be seeking advice.

As of 8:30 this morning the service's website was experiencing heavy demand, with many people reporting they couldn't access the site at all. Students turned to Twitter to vent their anger. One student Nick Emson writing: "Getting on to the UCAS track is harder than my actual A Level exams".

A-level results are predicted to improve again for the 29th year running, giving rise to the traditional annual claim they are getting easier, but this year the A* grade will be instrumental for universities in allocating places.

Thursday's newspapers carry warnings that life is about to get a lot tougher for young people trying to get a degree. The Guardian claims to have seen early indications that the gap between state and private schools in terms of attainment at A-Level has widened.

Separately The Daily Telegraph reports that the Higher Education Secretary David Willetts wants 'tougher' A-level subjects to carry more weight when universities are considering applicants for degree courses.

These reports come alongside a damning report by Britain's only independent higher education think-tank, which concludes that the government's changes to tuition fees announced last year will lead to reduced social mobility, and actually cost the taxpayer more money than the old system.

Speaking on Radio 4's Today programme the Higher Education Secretary David Willetts said he didn't know the exact number of places that would be available in clearing, but believed it would be around 40,000 - "'roughly similar to last year."

He insisted that the new system of tuition fees was fairer, saying: "There are arguments in favour of the new system because we are making monthly repayments lower. One of the problems of the old system was that it was front-loaded.

"There will be people who sadly won't get places. It's always been a competitive system and for those who sadly don't get a place, there are other options. They could move into work and possibly combine that with part-time study. There is also the apprenticeship route."

But after the government announced around £200m of funding for face-to-face career interviews will be cut, many students will be left wondering just what their other options are.