‘Big squeeze’: UK university applicants face fiercest competition in years | Higher Education


The sixth university applicants this year could face the toughest competition in a decade, especially for courses like medicine, with prestigious universities offering fewer offers or demanding higher grades, experts say in admission.

As the deadline for applications in medicine, veterinary sciences and dentistry approaches October 15, admissions officials are urging applicants to be careful and realistic in their applications and in choosing “insurance” offers.

This year, some selective universities have had to scramble to find enough rooms, seminar space and staff after thousands more students achieved the high A-level grades they need to secure their place. With many students already carried over from last year, as well as more than 18-year-olds in the system, universities say the competition will be fierce.

Dr Rohan Agarwal, founder of UniAdmissions, a tutoring service that helps students apply to the most competitive courses, said: “This will probably be the most competitive year I have ever seen, and I do. for almost a decade. . Last year, 20% more students enrolled in medical schools.

“They say that when there is a war, everyone wants to be a soldier. Well, when there is a pandemic, everyone wants to be a doctor. He predicts that most decisions about whether to offer a place will be made based on student performance in interviews or additional entrance exams. He says the toughest competition will likely be in medicine, but Russell Group universities will also be turning down more applicants this year for other courses.

Some oversubscribed medical schools have offered students £ 10,000 to switch universities, after the wave of applications was followed by hundreds of other top-scoring students.

The University of Exeter offered medical students £ 10,000 and one year of free accommodation to carry over until 2022, after the number of successful applicants with the course as their first choice rose from 20% to 60% . There will now be considerable additional pressure on places for the coming year.

Professor Ian Fussell, Associate Dean of Education at Exeter Medical School, said: “Medical schools have had a very hectic race over the past two years, so they will be managing all of their admissions with a lot of pressure. care. Students should talk to the schools they want to go to this year about the situation and think flexibly. “

Fussell says students who want to study medicine should expect stiff competition across the country. “They might wonder if a gap year would be right for them or if they could take another course before entering medicine,” he says.

Former Bristol University students. Bristol recommended this year’s sixths be very realistic if they apply. Photograph: Nick Riddle / University of Bristol

Ofqual, the exams regulator, said last Thursday that 2022 would be a “transition year,” with A-level grades not reverting to pre-pandemic levels and students receiving lower grades than the cohort 2021. However, experts say that won’t stop popular universities from being very cautious about the offerings they make.

Andrew Hargreaves, founder of dataHE, a consultancy that advises universities on admissions, says schools should recommend their students apply to high-fee courses at elite universities only if they have a realistic chance obtain the required grades. “Teachers need to understand that applicants have just lived a decade in a less competitive environment, but that is changing. They must ensure that their students make appropriate requests.

Hargreaves says it is “reasonable” for selective universities which have had to take in more students than they wanted over the past two years, to recruit fewer in 2022. “Some will be tight-knit and will stick to their grade requirements exactly, ”he said. said.

Places in medicine are capped by the government. But over the past two years, ministers have been forced to provide emergency funding for new medical places to help universities cope with the surplus of successful applicants. Universities want the government not to leave planning to the last minute this year, but to commit to additional places well before the results are released.

However, Fussell says that even with the extra money, many universities still won’t be able to expand their courses much more. “Our problem is with training courses,” he says. “We have a hospital in Exeter, one in Cornwall and one in Barnstaple. Everyone is already under such pressure and you cannot instantly create additional space or training capacity even if there was additional funding.

There are concerns about how this fierce competition will affect Grade 13 students, who have already had their education severely disrupted by the pandemic.

Liz Bowhay, whose daughter is in her final year of high school in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, says: “This cohort has never taken a formal exam. She stayed after school for a review class last March and came home to find her GCSEs had been canceled. She just burst into tears.

Bowhay says that as a parent she is very worried about the additional competition for college places. But with her daughter having an unworn ball gown in the closet, no date for her driver’s license, and her first college experience disrupted: “I didn’t really discuss it with her because I didn’t. not want to add to his worries. “

Lee Elliot Major, Professor of Social Mobility at the University of Exeter, says: “The next two cohorts of A-level students arriving now face major challenges: the strong pressure on university places created by the explosion of top grades this year, with many carry-over for a year, coupled with a stricter scoring system next year, which will mean fewer A grades and even fewer the following year.

He fears that those who pass the A levels next year will have no experience of the “high stakes” exams. He adds: “All of this will likely hit the most disadvantaged students the hardest, who will have missed most of their education during the pandemic. “

Kerry O’Shea, Director of Admissions at the University of Bristol, advises students to pay close attention to what universities ask for and be realistic when applying. “If you’re worried about meeting the entry requirements, it can be a risk,” she says. She urges students to choose a course that is a real back-up option for their “insurance” choice in case they don’t get the grades they hope for.

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds should, she adds, look for programs that will give them a helping hand. “We make contextual offers to applicants from under-represented groups that are two scores lower than our standard offer,” she says.

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