Top universities were last night accused of dumbing down standards after they cut entry requirements by up to two grades to fill places through clearing yesterday.
A number of prestigious Russell Group universities, including Birmingham, Warwick and Southampton, advertised courses in clearing with reduced A-level criteria.
Ancient history at Birmingham, which charges fees of £9,250 a year, fell from ABB to BBC.
It came as universities were accused of offering ‘bribes’ as high as £4,500 for students who accept last-minute places. They are luring them with lucrative ‘clearing scholarships’, laptops, fee discounts and even £200 cash rewards if they ‘refer a friend’.
As of last night, a record 7,960 students found places this year through clearing – with around half gaining spots having not even previously applied to any institution.
Clearing allows students to apply for the remaining university places available if they have got better or worse grades than they expected – or if they did not apply before (stock image)
Clearing allows students to apply for the remaining university places available if they have got better or worse grades than they expected – or if they did not apply before.
Experts say a glut of places combined with a decline in the population of 18-year-olds has led to some institutions lowering entry requirements to fill spots. Alan Smithers, education professor at the University of Buckingham, said: ‘Drastically lowering entry grades is bad for students – who may not be able to cope with the course – and the university which may have to drop standards to hang on to them.
‘There are many more places now and fewer teenagers. Filling the places is vital to income so the temptation is great, but universities should resist it because the numbers of 18-year-olds will start to pick up again soon.’
Chris McGovern, of the Campaign for Real Education, added: ‘Universities will continue to lower grades until they have pulled in a sufficient number of punters to fill their vacant course places. University admissions have become like a street market with admission tutors acting as educational wide boys.
Brexit boosts politics
Brexit is thought to be behind a surge in the number of students studying politics and other social sciences.
There were 19,729 entries for political studies A-level this summer, up 9.8 per cent from 2018. This was the biggest percentage increase in uptake of any subject this year, and follows five years of steady increase. In 2014, 13,761 took the subject.
Most students sitting political studies this year would have started the course in September 2017, following the EU referendum and election of US President Donald Trump in 2016.
However, the number of students obtaining A* this year fell by 1.6 per cent to 26 per cent.
Geoff Barton, of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: ‘It might be because of Brexit, it might be in spite of Brexit. This generation feel like global citizens, they want to stay connected with the world.’
‘It is a national scandal. Shame on those universities that are placing their own self-interest ahead of what is best for young people.’
Yesterday morning figures from admissions body UCAS showed that the number of students accepted on courses initially had gone down.
Among UK students, 348,890 applications were accepted – a one per cent drop on 2018. This left universities scrambling to fill popular courses such as English, history and biology. A Daily Mail audit yesterday found that Russell Group universities appeared to be asking for lower entry requirements in clearing. Birmingham University defended the cut in requirements for ancient history.
A spokesman said: ‘We only adjust our grades for clearing in a small number of subjects where we have capacity and have confidence in a student’s ability to succeed.’
Warwick University’s English course originally required AAA but now appears to advertise entry through clearing at BBB.
A Warwick spokesman said: ‘Entry requirements during clearing are considered decisions to ensure that students entering the course have the potential to succeed.’
Southampton now appears to require BBB for a biology course that was previously AAB.
A spokesman said: ‘In setting these requirements for clearing applications this year we have taken in to account the reformed A-level qualifications which were designed to make them more challenging.’
Spanish trumps French
Spanish has leapfrogged French to become the most popular foreign language A-level as students dream of exotic travels in South America.
The numbers taking Spanish have grown, while French and German have been in decline.
In total, there were 8,625 entries for A-level Spanish this year – up 4.3 per cent on last year. French fell 3.8 per cent to 8,355, and just 3,033 students took German. Professor Alan Smithers, of Buckingham University, said: ‘Spanish, like English, is a world language so it is a good choice.’ But he admitted that the lure of travel could also be a factor in its popularity.
Spain’s cultural and language centre, Instituto Cervantes, said: ‘The Spanish-speaking world is becoming more important in terms of demography, economy, trade, culture and so on.’
Meanwhile critics accused universities of ‘bribery’. Professor Smithers said: ‘With the shortfall in applicants, universities are desperate to fill their places. They have resorted to bribery of various kinds.’
Westminster University is offering up to 40 ‘merit-based’ clearing scholarships, worth £1,500 annually for three-year degree courses. A spokesman yesterday insisted they were designed for people who are ‘academically excellent and work very hard for the grades’.
Goldsmiths, University of London, is offering ‘clearing excellence scholarships’ – worth £500 – to all clearing students who achieve BBB or above at A-level.
London Metropolitan University runs a ‘refer a friend’ scheme which gives current students £200 for every new undergraduate they direct to the institution.
Northampton University offers all new students a free laptop or the value off accommodation costs.
Looking good for Cambridge
Paloma Shemirani wants to change perceptions of beauty pageants after gaining two A*s in Spanish and English and an A in history A-level.
The 18-year-old, who studied at Roedean School, Brighton, is heading to Cambridge to read Spanish and Portuguese and is also set to compete in the finals of Miss Brighton.
She said: ‘A lot of people have a stereotyped view of beauty pageants that all the women taking part are not academic. Well that is untrue.
In this “Me Too” era, I wanted to prove that you can be intelligent and academic as well.’
Paloma, from Brighton, says she is dedicated to glamour as well as her academic studies.
Paloma Shemirani wants to change perceptions of beauty pageants after gaining two A*s in Spanish and English and an A in history A-level
I fled Iraq, now I want to be a doctor
Yam Al Aloosi is now a step closer to achieving her dream of becoming a surgeon
A student who came to the UK after fleeing her war-torn home in Iraq celebrated fantastic results in her science A-levels yesterday.
Yam Al Aloosi (right) is now a step closer to achieving her dream of becoming a surgeon after being awarded an A in biology and a B in chemistry.
The 20-year-old – who has previously completed three other A-levels – left Iraq for Jordan with her family in 2006 after an assassination attempt on her father. They applied for asylum in the UK in 2013, and now live in Liverpool where Yam has been studying at the Liverpool Life Sciences UTC.
Meanwhile, a teenager trafficked to the UK from Albania is looking forward to starting work after getting his A-levels. Stiven Bregu, 18 (below), was smuggled into the country in a lorry in 2015, and placed in foster care.
He now has maths, biology and chemistry qualifications from St Mary Redcliffe and Temple School in Bristol and joins an accounting firm next month.
Stiven Bregu, 18, was smuggled into the country in a lorry in 2015, and placed in foster care
Inspired by those who saved mum
Devoted daughter Lissy Walker is going to study medicine at university after being inspired by doctors who helped her mother.
The 18-year-old – who achieved an A* in politics, A in biology and B in her chemistry A-levels – was just six when her mother Emma was badly hurt in a car crash.
The caterer spent five months in hospital after suffering a brain injury and numerous broken bones, but ultimately pulled through. Lissy (pictured with her mother) was a pupil at Putney High School in London and is now heading to Cardiff University.
She said: ‘Seeing the way that doctors cared for my mother amazed me.’
Devoted daughter Lissy Walker is going to study medicine at university after being inspired by doctors who helped her mother
Dyslexia didn’t stop me
A dyslexic pupil who was told she may never read or write has achieved three A-levels – and discovered a passion for classics.
Shanyce Walley, 19 (below), missed out on extra support when younger as her condition was only diagnosed at 11. She joined a foundation programme at Stoke-on-Trent Sixth Form College.
She has now gained A-levels in classical civilisation, history and religious studies – and has started learning Latin. Shanyce said: ‘My confidence has really grown.’
Shanyce Walley has now gained A-levels in classical civilisation, history and religious studies – and has started learning Latin
Going to Oxford after cerebral palsy battle
Emily Manock is heading to Oxford University after being inspired by a visit to one of the colleges.
The 18-year-old (below), who has cerebral palsy, visited Jesus College while still studying for her GCSEs.
She said: ‘I saw a student who likely had cerebral palsy as I do, and it was at that point that I began to set my sights on Oxford.’
The pupil at Bolton School Girls’ Division yesterday achieved A* in English Literature, A* in politics, A in French and B in German. She is now set to return to Jesus College to study French.
Emily Manock is heading to Oxford University after being inspired by a visit to one of the colleges
Deafness didn’t hold up Jessica
Young activist Jessica Olliver – who was born profoundly deaf – is heading for university after learning her subjects through lip-reading.
The 18-year-old (below) is an ambassador for deaf charity Auditory Verbal UK, and yesterday achieved A* in geography, A* in history and an A in politics.
The Brighton College pupil is now going to Leeds University to study international history.
She said: ‘I have learnt mainly through lip- reading – the teachers have been fantastic.
‘I’m not saying it hasn’t been difficult but the hard work has paid off.’
Young activist Jessica Olliver – who was born profoundly deaf – is heading for university after learning her subjects through lip-reading
Girls top in science
For the first time, more girls than boys are taking science A-levels in a sign that they may be targeting traditionally male careers.
Girls now make up 50.3 per cent of all entries in science subjects, compared with 49.6 per cent last year.
Exam chiefs said yesterday that it was a ‘historic first’ following a huge campaign by the Government and schools to encourage girls into the field.
Science has always been dominated by boys, and back in 2012 they had an eight percentage point lead on their female peers. But parents have become more aware of how low the average earnings are for many traditionally female occupations, and have become more ambitious for their daughters.