UCAS 2016: A buyer’s market?

We have survived A-level results day, despite my worst fears it was a sunny end to an emotional day.  Our results were a mixed bag with some surprises but no change there.   Our first cohort of new specification students have survived onto year two, well mostly.  We have done our last ever AS level exams but my thoughts on that deserve another blogpost later.

Most of our year 13 students have found a place at university and I am genuinely thrilled for them.  The day goes through the full range of emotions from surprise, despair, anger, disappointment to eventual joy as they negotiate the bumpy terrain of university admission.

My anecdotal reflections are that most universities were prepared to significantly drop their entry requirements to secure the applicant.  Some offers went from conditional to unconditional overnight even though the candidates had not met the entry requirements.  Many were prepared to drop 80 UCAS points, even the mighty Russell’s!  The BBC have reported that record numbers of students were given university places on results day.

For the students who have managed to secure a place, on a course they want at an institution they are happy with, I am overjoyed.  However, I am left wondering how I feel about it being a buyer’s market.  The courses are so numerous and with a shrinking pool of applicants there had to be some serious stretching of the entry requirements to ensure that courses were up and running.  Now to a certain degree, this has always been the case.  Results day is always a day for negotiation but I cannot remember a time when it felt like a closing down sale where everything must go.  Alongside the elasticity of entry requirements, the universities are ratcheting up their special offers to applicants.  Free iPads, iPhones, laptops, money off tuition fees, money off MA courses.  It really has become a bewildering market place.

It this a good or bad thing?  Clearly, many students will benefit from this avalanche of lower offers, I often wonder what is the real difference between a student with ABB and one with BBB are?  So perhaps a softening is no bad thing.  However, all the free gifts are not really free are they?  They are being taken out of their tuition fees which means universities will have less to spend on teaching and learning?

I was also wondering about the equity in the system.  Your experience of education, as usual depends on the performance of your cohort.  We have witnessed other years that resemble more of a seller’s market, before the removal of the cap on numbers many institutions have pulled up the drawbridge and sat tight.  I guess it is difficult to see students as individuals in a marketised higher education system.

More importantly, it makes me wonder about the phoney war that takes place in sixth form classrooms in the previous 9 months.  Students and their tutors sweat blood and tears to get their UCAS applications together and yet the state of play changes so radically on results day.   University admissions teams must also live in a state of heightened alert as no one really knows anything.  I guess I am left wondering if there is another way of doing this?  Could our time be better spent on exploring different courses and careers and leave the market place ‘free for all’ until after the grades are in?