Imperial College, London have made what is being described as the toughest ever offer for a place at university. A student at Magdalen College School, Oxford has been offered a place to read Mathematics conditional on him attaining two A*s and three As at A Level. Tim Hands, his Headmaster, made the wry comment that it wasn't the best present Santa could have popped down the chimney although he backs him to make the offer next summer.
I was discussing university entrance over lunch with some of my Upper Sixth last term and talk turned to the changing face of university applications and offers. This year is expected to be the toughest ever in which to be applying to university with funding being cut, places reduced, some degree courses being scrapped and more students than ever applying to try and beat the introduction of new tuition fees in 2012. In 2009 139,000 students missed out on university places (22% of all applicants). 2010 saw a sharp rise with 188,000 failing to get into university (27% of all applicants) and 2011 will once again see many disappointed applicants. See this link to the BBC for more details.
Each August the press is full of stories about grade inflation (hence the need to introduce the A* at A Level from last summer). What is often overlooked is that grade inflation, far from making life easier for today's students, has also had the effect of dramatically increasing pressure on them. While the grades may be easier to attain, with so many students attaining the top grades there is no margin for error. A good set of grades can be met more with relief than elation and that is scant reward for the hard work which has led to them.
Our students remain confident and early indications are that they are doing well at securing offers but many of those offers will be extremely challenging and they will need to have sensible insurance offers in place as it becomes increasingly unlikely that universities will honour an offer where it is missed even by one grade. Increasingly universities are making offers above the tariff published on their web sites and this has led some to make applications in good faith which turn out to be wasted. Immoral? Yes and UCAS say it shouldn't be happening but it is and has been the topic of much discussion and annoyance amongst HMC and GSA schools. Most of our students do a great job of taking it all in their stride but morale is an important component in the process and we should appreciate the pressures on them which didn't exist a few years back.