33.7 per cent of all 18 year olds from England, and 26.7 per cent from Scotland, were accepted through UCAS to start an undergraduate course in 2018. Northern Ireland and Wales saw entry rates similar to 2016.

The third release of UCAS’ 2018 End of Cycle Report shows continued increases in the proportion of young people entering higher education from most regions of the UK. Only the East of England, North East, and Yorkshire and Humberside saw small decreases compared to last year.

Around 60 per cent of 18 year old UK students applied with A levels alone, and 10 per cent solely with a BTEC qualification. Almost 8 per cent held a combination of A levels and BTECS, and 6 per cent held SQA Highers. 16 per cent of applicants also held another type of qualification, such as Cambridge Technical, Pre-U or Extended Project qualifications, up almost 3 percentage points from 2017.

The likelihood of students being accepted with lower A level grades continues to grow, with 80 per cent of applicants holding DDD (or equivalent) accepted in 2018. This pattern of acceptance at lower grades is also reflected in BTEC students, where acceptance rates for PPP applicants increased from 50 per cent in 2017 to 70 per cent this year.

Luke Heselwood 2Commenting on the point that universities are accepting more students with lower grades, Reform Researcher, Dr Luke Heselwood, said:

"Although the number of students with lower grades being accepted by universities is on the rise, these figures focus on the sector as a whole.

"Reform research shows that top universities are all but failing to improve access for the most disadvantaged students because, on average, they do not achieve the required A level grades, compared with their more advantaged peers."

There is little difference between reformed and non-reformed BTEC qualifications affecting whether an applicant receives an offer. Predicted grades of both types of BTEC are being treated comparably by universities, despite different predicted grade distributions. Reforms to BTEC qualifications have also not affected an applicant’s chance of being accepted onto a course.

The number of international applicants accepted from several key countries has grown. 10,180 students from China secured a place, up 10 per cent on 2017. Hong Kong, Spain, Poland, Romania, and India also saw increases in 2018. France, Malaysia, Italy, and Cyprus complete the top ten international countries, although each saw fewer acceptances than 2017.

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said:

‘Today’s release confirms a key trend over recent years – there’s never been a better time to apply for higher education. Despite the ongoing decline of 18 year olds in the population, the proportion of young people applying and being accepted is at record levels across large parts of the UK, showing a degree is as attractive as ever.

‘However, while an individual student’s potential to succeed on an undergraduate course could’ve been shown during an interview, through a portfolio, or personal statement, universities and colleges must be mindful of accepting applicants with lower grades. Students must be appropriately supported during their studies, so they can flourish on their chosen course.

‘We’re working with schools and universities to improve the accuracy of predicted grades, exploring the different ways teachers make predictions, and how they are used by admissions teams when making offers. Our good practice guide will be published in the new year.

‘The continuing, global appeal of studying in the UK is clear by the increased acceptance numbers from several key countries.’ 

The record proportion of students being issued offers is great news for young people looking to progress into higher education, and is testament to their hard work. However, there is still work to be done, especially to make sure that every young person has equal opportunity to access and then succeed in higher education.

The Office for Students also announced the outcome of its consultation on access and participation, setting out long-term timeframes for the elimination of disparity gaps. Working towards narrowing the disadvantage gap is a key goal for the Secretary of State, who has called for universities to improve their access and participation plans.

Education Secretary Damian Hinds said:

Whilst potential and talent is evenly spread, the opportunities to make the most of it sometimes aren’t. There is no reason why a white working class child growing up in Sunderland or Somerset should be less likely to go to university than any other child growing up in this country.

We are all aware of the different rates of access to university for different groups and it’s simply unacceptable for universities not to act to increase their efforts to reach out to potential talent across the country. The data is out there, and I have a simple message to universities: look at your own admissions policies and work out what you can do to ensure that your university is open to everyone who has the potential, no matter their background or where they are from.

We know that university is a key determinant of future success so I want to see the access and successful participation plans that universities are beginning to produce next year take significant action. Access and participation plans should emphasise successful participation that is completion of the full course, followed by quality employment. I see no reason why race or background should be a factor in whether a student can access and benefit from the opportunities that higher education provides – and we must all share a collective endeavour to tear down these barriers where they exist.

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