3,500 straight-A students failed to secure a place at university last year.
This year, despite a new A* (A-star) grade, a similar problem is occurring.
With 3 A* and 1 A, Amber Fox thought she would find a place to study Medicine. However, none of the universities she applied to offered her a place. Fast forward to clearing and there were no places to be had in her chosen field.
Consider this story for a moment. Amber achieves impressive A-level results, she has identified a career path she would like to follow, and that career requires education beyond A-levels. The natural course of action is, therefore, university.
David Willetts, Minister of State for Universities and Science, says that university should not be the only route to success. A valid point. He also states that the application process to university is a competitive one and not all applicants will be successful.
Unfortunately, competition for a place at university is an increasingly random process. When someone with top grades is denied a place and cannot follow their chosen career without a degree, something is wrong.
Willetts explains the possibility of Further Education in order to work toward a degree. But even this appears to be a false trail at the moment. FE principal, John Widdowson, told the BBC that student numbers are similarly capped at colleges:
“It goes against the grain to be turning away well-qualified, enthusiastic students and say ‘I’m sorry, we haven’t got a place for you’.” [Source]
I wish Amber the best of luck in reapplying to universities next year, which is her aim. Amber is not alone. Willetts is aware that many straight-A students are falling out the system and that further understanding is required to improve the situation. It remains to be seen what action is taken on this front.
The application process clearly can’t keep up with other changes. To rely on personal statements and minor quibbles to sort out potential offers is unreasonable. I feel uncomfortable when so much hinges upon so little, negating all the effort that came before. Yet this is what it ultimately boils down to.
Admissions teams are not to blame here. Popular, heavily fought courses are bound to be oversubscribed. Despite the A* grade, admissions officers still find difficulty in choosing who to take on.
In following years, as top students reapply, they deny the next set of potential students. And the cycle continues.
So what can make the system more reasonable? Some argue that places should be offered after exam results are known, not before. Others say the artificial cap on university places should be lifted. There are many options, no absolute right answer, but plenty of room for improvement.
In a competitive field such as Medicine, I doubt all top students would find success even if more places were offered and those offers came after A-level results were released. However, the situation wouldn’t feel as skewed as it is now.
In years gone by, a story like Amber’s would be shocking due to its unusual nature. Now it’s shocking because so many young people must suffer in the same way.
For more on this story, Radio 4’s “The Report” is available to listen to for a week.