The offer rate for A-level students applying to top universities has fallen significantly, with medical and dental degrees becoming even harder to attain than in previous years, according to Ucas admissions service data.
Higher-paying colleges, including those of the research-intensive Russell Group, have tightened their offers, with the proportion of applications resulting in an offer falling from 60.5% in 2021 to 55.1% this summer.
Meanwhile, fewer than 16% of applications to majors in medicine and dentistry — among the most competitive majors — resulted in an offer this year, up from 20.4% in 2021, leaving some of the country’s top-performing students disappointed.
Figures released on Wednesday confirm last week’s Guardian report that many predicted A* in their A levels, who in previous years would have received offers from many of their favorite institutions, have instead received a string of rejections.
Matt Western, the shadow secretary for higher education, said: “Labor urged ministers to work with universities last summer. We drew up a plan for this year’s results almost a year ago, but once again the government has stood on its hands. The government must finally work together with universities to secure the future of young people.”
According to Ucas, universities are trying to stabilize student numbers after a surge in the past two years amid the Covid pandemic. The overall supply rate is 66.4%, up from 72% in 2019 before the pandemic.
Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said the trend is likely to continue in the coming years as universities grapple with a growing number of applications as the number of 18-year-olds in the UK population increases. This is projected to continue for another decade and increase by 2-3% almost every year. The number of international students is also growing.
She said the 667,000 applicants in 2022, submitting nearly 3 million applications, “were both records for this point in the cycle and will likely be surpassed every year for the foreseeable future. One million applicants by 2026 remains a very real prospect.”
In a blog for the Higher Education Policy Institute, Marchant writes: “Universities and colleges have reacted to the increase in applications by making offers more cautiously.
“And some universities are choosing to stabilize their student numbers after the growth over the past two years. This means that the overall offer rate is 66.4%, compared to 72% in 2019, and it is also indicative of future cycles where universities and colleges are adjusting to having more applicants.
“Due to this reduced offer rate, fewer students who applied to universities with higher tariffs hold four or more offers at universities with high tariffs compared to the previous year.”
Marchant said although asking rates have fallen overall, applicants from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have been least affected, with a smaller drop to 75.1% from 78.8% last year. This likely depends on the type of institutions and courses students are applying to.
“However, the stark divide between the most and least fortunate remains, with an 18-year-old living in a privileged area being 2.86 times more likely to make a firm decision than their counterpart in a deprived area” , Marchant wrote.
More than 43% of 18-year-olds in the UK had applied to university by the January deadline. According to Ucas, 281,500 of them have a fixed offer, 7,000 more than last year and the highest number on record, of which 117,000 have offers with higher tariff operators – the second highest number on record.