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Last Thursday on A-level Results Day, our teams saw the return of a busier Clearing with activity levels across both Whatuni and The Complete University Guide reflecting pre-pandemic trends. Total sessions across the two student research sites were up by 9% compared to 2021, and page views increased by 7% year-on-year with a total of 900,690 on A-level results day alone. While this means more demand for certain universities and courses, it also confirms speculation that more students this year are dissatisfied with their results and have needed to enter Clearing.
Considering that 2022 is the first year since the end of the pandemic in which students have sat exams again in person - after two years of students learning predominantly online and having their grades assessed by teachers (controversially leading to grade inflation) - it has been somewhat expected that grades would see a return to lower pre-pandemic levels. For students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not have had sufficient support to learn remotely during the pandemic, the impact on their grades is likely to be negative with deep repercussions for social mobility.
Jonah Duffin, Global Director of External Relations at IDP Connect, says: “We are now seeing a shift from a Clearing market that favoured students, often giving them the chance to upgrade and change institutions post results, to a results day where students who haven't quite got the grades they were hoping for needing to enter Clearing. This has resulted in a YoY increase of +109% of organic traffic across one of our sites alone on results day.”
In this article, we’ll share some of our key findings from A-level results day and what these may mean for institutions. We’ll cover the increase in Clearing-specific activity this year compared to 2021, consider YoY shifts in top-searched subjects, explore changes in regional demand, and look at demand changes for low, medium, and high ranked institutions.
68.1% YoY increase in clicks and calls
In addition to increased traffic on A-level results day on Whatuni and The Complete University Guide, we also saw an increase of 68.1% more clicks and calls for our clients on the day. 71% more calls were generated for Clearing Core Partners on the two sites compared to last year with call durations also increasing by 61%.
In total 7,404 calls were generated to institutions from the two sites. The notable increase in phone calls and duration of phone calls may suggest that students felt more uncertainty over their course options on the day, needed more reassurance, and felt more of an urgency to speak to institutions on the phone to understand their options.
On A-level results day, we saw an overall increase in volume of sessions compared to 2021. At 8am on the day, when most students logged onto their computers to view their results, interest was up by 53.84%. Levels of enquiry reached a peak between 9am and 10am and then spiked again between 11am and 12am, before following a similar pattern to 2021.
Top-tier universities in high demand on A-level results day
Considering the whole Clearing period from 1 July to 18 August, mid-tier universities have been the most researched this year seeing an increased market share of 4% compared to last year. This has predominantly come at the expense of top-tier universities seeing a decrease in research by 6% this year compared to 2021.
This could suggest that this cohort of students have expected lower grades and have therefore had lower aspirations for where they could study. It was also covered in the media that many top tier institutions were oversubscribed for 2022 and would therefore not enter Clearing.
Interestingly, however, on A-level results day, top-ranked universities were consistently the most researched throughout the day, seeing double the research sessions at the day’s peak compared to mid-tier institutions. Students were likely to aim as high as possible on the day to keep their options open.
Looking at tariff points entered on A-level results day, there was a higher proportion of lower grades entered this year compared to last year (the 88-tariff point tier saw a 2% increase this year to 6% of audience share and the 96-tariff point tier also increased by just under 2% YoY), however average and higher tariff grades have remained fairly similar to2021 with the top 168-tarriff point tier increasing slightly this year to 3% of audience share. This could reflect a gradual shift back to pre-pandemic grade levels.
Computer Science climbs the ranks to most researched subject
This year we’ve seen big shifts in the most popular courses researched compared to last year. The top researched subject this year on Whatuni and The Complete University Guide combined were:
Financial Management / Accounting
The 2021 top researched subject on A-level results day were Medicine, Law and Business. Computer Science placed in 10th position, indicating that it’s climbed significantly this year.
The shift away from Medicine as the top researched subject may be a sign of the times, as we shift towards a more ‘normal’ pre-pandemic world where COVID-19 and the efforts of the NHS are no longer covered in the media on a daily basis. Media coverage of the NHS has been largely negative focusing on staff and budget shortages, which may be impacting on student demand. Another reason could be that the cap on places for Medical and Dental students has not been extended by the government this year. Last year the health secretary increased the cap from approximately 7,500 to 9,000 places, but this has not happened this year, which has limited Clearing opportunities.
The marked rise of Computer Science as the top researched subject could potentially be attributed to the continual digitalisation of our everyday lives with remote working being much more commonplace than it was a few years ago.
Focusing on subjects, Computing and Mathematical Sciences saw the largest increase in percentage share this A-level results day, followed by Applied and Pure Sciences. On the flip side, Social Studies and Media had the biggest dip in percentage share, followed by Business, Management and Marketing.
Health and Medicine had the highest numbers in terms of volume of all subject areas and saw the second highest YoY increase in volume of searches compared to last year, following Applied and Pure Sciences, which had the largest increase in volume.
The widening north-south divide with more users entering Clearing from the north
Looking at where demand is coming from on both Whatuni and The Complete University Guide, there was a decrease in users from the South of the UK, as well as the Midlands, while demand from the North, Wales and Scotland was up, as shown in the charts below. This could be an indicator of a growing north-south divide and geographical inequalities with those from northern territories not getting the grades they were expecting and therefore more likely to enter Clearing.
This generation of students have been deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The repercussions of remote learning and all the social, academic, and psychological adjustments that students have had to make during the pandemic will have positive, as well as negative repercussions on their lives.
On the one hand it’s heartening to see a return to pre-pandemic trends on A-level results day, signalling a return to ‘normalcy’, but on the other hand students may feel more disappointment this year. As a sector, it’s vital that we consider what impact these shifts will have on students and how we can give them the best possible support.
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For more in-depth insights on A-level results day and how we can support your institution to reach and support more students during Clearing, get in touch with usContact us