High-achieving students may go through clearing

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With record numbers of students chasing very few places in clearing, a leading advice website for university applicants has issued a stark warning that leaping at vacancies makes students more likely to drop out.

This year an unprecedented seven applicants will be chasing each university vacancy, which is likely to force many into snap decisions which they may come to regret, according to new findings by push.co.uk, which show a statistical link between universities which admit the most students through clearing and those with the highest drop-out rates.

While the reasons why students drop out are complex, advice experts caution that desperation may drive students to accept places on courses they had not previously considered at universities they know little about.

The diversity within higher education means that, while many different students can be well catered for, not every university is suitable for every student and, with flunk rates running at 19%, many may come to regret rash choices.

The courses available in clearing are, for the most part, those that were unable to attract enough students even during the most over-subscribed year on record.

The advice site urges students to consider re-applying for next year if they cannot find a vacancy which they know suits their needs.

Meanwhile, there could be more places than expected in clearing for people with exceptional A-level results.

Speaking to the Guardian, Ucas Chief Executive Mary Curnock Cook said it is difficult to predict what clearing will be like this year and suggested that some institutions may have deliberately held back places in a bid to pick up high calibre students who were unable to secure a place at their preferred university.

The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL) said it will be a sad day if people with good results miss out on university.

Nansi Ellis, Head of Education Policy at ATL, said: "Does the government want to be infamous for casting this generation of students adrift with nowhere to turn? Despite making the right noises about the importance of education and social mobility it has halved the number of extra university places and scrapped the Future Jobs Fund. This would be bad enough when the economy is booming and there are plenty of jobs, but potentially catastrophic when we are in a recession.

"The majority of young people are passionate to learn and keen to contribute to society, but many are understandably nervous about what the future now holds.

"The government needs to do everything possible to ensure that every student has the opportunity of a place in education, training or help to get a job. If it does not, this government will go down in history as having failed young people."

Commenting on the release of this year’s A-level results, Miles Templeman, Director-General of the Institute of Directors, said: “We are well used to the annual ritual of debates about standards which the exam season tends to unleash. Discussions about the content of qualifications and the currency of exams both have their place; the quality of our education system is, after all, an incredibly important focus.

“But Groundhog Day debates about A-levels and GCSEs always generate more heat than light. From the employer’s perspective, they obscure the real priority issues in education: improving standards of literacy and numeracy and the employability skills of our young people, and encouraging more to study STEM subjects.

“Those A-level pupils who haven’t won a place in higher education should not despair. University is not the be all and end all. Not all courses will confer the financial rewards so frequently cited, and employers place just as much emphasis on wider employability skills as they do on academic qualifications. There are also other providers of courses, such as further education colleges, which might be a better option for some pupils.

 “It is important that those not successful in their applications are given every support to assess all of their options – improved careers advice would help. And at a time when the recruitment market is also very competitive, the Government could consider the practicalities of extending its internship initiative (the Graduate Talent Pool) to school leavers.”

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