Teenagers should be "more ambitious" when making university applications, the official admissions body said today amid mounting evidence that institutions are lowering their entry requirements.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) said students could afford to pitch for tougher courses than previously thought because a “buyers’ market for applicants” had been created in recent years.
In a major report, it was claimed that students now had much more choice over courses, with school leavers up to 80 per cent more likely to be given five offers of university places than in 2009.
The comments were made as it emerged that record numbers of students were accepted in to UK universities this autumn, with numbers up by 17,000 to exceed 500,000 for the first time.
Figures suggested that applicants were finding it easier to secure places than at any time in the past. It emerged that:
1. Almost all school leavers now get at least one offer of a place;
2. The proportion of students accepted into leading universities – the third of institutions with the toughest entrance requirements – with at least an A and two B grades at A-level has declined from more than 80 per cent in 2011 to 77 per cent this autumn;
3. Some 35 per cent of students with straight Bs were admitted to the most selective universities, double the rate in 2011, while 15 per cent of those with BBC grades were admitted, almost three times the rate in 2011;
4. Almost seven per cent of all school leavers in England got into university holding BTEC qualifications this year, with overall numbers soaring by 20 per cent in a year and more than doubling since 2006;
5. Record numbers of students were given “unconditional offers” – guaranteed places before they even sit their A-levels – with numbers rising four-fold to 12,000 in just a year.
The disclosure will raise concerns that large numbers of school leavers are being tempted onto degree courses who are unfit for the demands of higher education.
It comes as all controls limiting the number of students that each university can recruit are abolished for the first time next year, in a move that is expected to lead to even higher entry rates.