This is a good time to aim high with university choice, pupils told

The Times, 18/12/14, sixth-formers have been urged to be more ambitious when choosing universities and apply for courses with tougher entry requirements.

The advice, from the head of the university admissions body, came as figures showed many selective courses have dropped entry tariffs by about one A-level grade.

Record numbers of offers are also being made to applicants amid fierce competition between universities for undergraduate admissions.

Both trends followed a slump in admissions in 2012, when the maximum tuition fee trebled to £9,000 a year, and the phased removal of limits on how many undergraduates universities could recruit, allowing them to expand.

Since then, the proportion of English school-leavers with strong A-level grades of AAB or above admitted to the 30 most selective universities has fallen from a peak of 89 per cent in 2011 to 82 per cent last year.

Applicants with predicted grades of BBB were among those most likely to get conditional offers from all five institutions they applied to, as universities made 1.8 million offers last year, 101,400 more than the previous year.

Those with the highest grades, such as A*AA, have lower acceptance rates as they are more likely to apply to Oxford or Cambridge.

The figures included 12,000 unconditional offers, a four-fold increase since the previous year, according to an analysis by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas).

It noted that A-level grading had become stricter and fewer sixth-formers were studying A levels as growing numbers switch to BTEC qualifications. Teenagers who studied BTECs rather than A levels were 20 per cent more likely to go university, but largely went to low-tariff, and not selective, institutions.

Mary Curnock Cook, the Ucas chief executive, said young people were between 30 and 80 per cent more likely to get five offers than five years go, and urged candidates to aim higher.

“This indicates scope for applicants to recalibrate their initial applications to include one or two courses with tougher entry requirements,” she said in a foreword to the report.

Record numbers were admitted to universities in the autumn, with 512,400 candidates finding places, of whom 447,600 were from Britain. The figures confirmed that record numbers of poor teenagers went to university last year, and have risen by a third in five years in England and Wales, with an entry rate of 18.2 per cent among 18-year-olds living in the poorest areas.

While numbers were still low, the gap in entry rates between the richest and poorest candidates narrowed, with applicants from affluent areas 6.8 times more likely to go to university compared with a ratio of 9.2 in 2006.

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