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New data from IDP Connect reveals that despite higher grades being awarded and students being accepted onto their first-choice institution, significant numbers of students are seeking to find a place through Clearing on their websites. Overall traffic on IDP Connect’s two student search websites, Whatuni and Complete University Guide, reached over 150,000 users on A-level results day, five times the average number of users per day in July. The average grade tariff points searched by students seeking a Clearing course also increased from 119 to 124 on the IDP Connect sites.

With more students than ever before achieving entry to their first-place university and therefore fewer unfilled places available, even students with top grades may be struggling to find a course they feel meets their academic achievement, particularly in popular subjects.

For institutions, so many students having achieved top grades makes identifying students that are the best fit an additional challenge, increasing the risk of missing out on top candidates. This is likely to cause disappointment for many students who hoped to secure a placement only to find many others matching their A-level success.

Given that record numbers of students are said to have been accepted by their first-choice university, the data indicates that many students with top grades may be seeking to change their course through Clearing. Students seeking to “upgrade” their course may be contributing to already high numbers of students going through the Clearing process.

Changes to top searched grades

Students appear well aware of the value of good grades in obtaining a top university place. However, with higher grades awarded in a year of more 18-year-olds in the population, demand for top courses is high. Courses with entry requirements of 144 grade tariffs, equivalent to AAA or A*AB, were the fourth most popular searched-for grades in 2021, up from fifth in 2020. This data reflects the record-breaking number of top grades awarded this year, but also shows that more students with top grades are turning to Clearing to find a new place at an alternative higher education institution.

Top student interests

In comparison to last year, significantly fewer students were seeking information on how COVID-19 may impact studying this year. This may suggest that either students have a high level of confidence that their university experience will be less affected by COVID-19 restrictions, likely buoyed by the success of the vaccine rollout, or that they now feel sufficiently informed as to how universities will respond to any COVID-19 resurgence.

Replacing concerns over the impact of COVID-19 on Complete University Guide was a particularly strong interest in information on UCAS points, possibly related to students wanting to know how much their inflated grades had enhanced their course options.

Comparatively, on Whatuni the top two searched articles were related to BTEC grades, their value in terms of higher education and employment options and how they were being awarded. This may reflect the fact that BTEC grades were awarded on the same day as A-levels this year, as well as a potential lack of understanding among students as to where their BTEC grades can take them in terms of higher education options.

Across both sites, Clearing FAQs and Guides to Clearing also featured highly, reflecting what we would expect to be key topics for students. However, the popularity of these topics on A-level results day may represent students who made the decision to seek a course through the Clearing process only after receiving their grades.

A further breakdown of the key article themes interesting students, in addition to key insights on student behaviour and regional trends, is available in the A-level results day report.

Simon Emmett, CEO of IDP Connect, commented:

“This year’s students should be incredibly proud of what they have achieved under such challenging circumstances. We ourselves have seen a significant number of student searches across our platforms versus previous years’ results day and for higher education to have remained so in demand after the challenges of the past year and online learning, reflects the hard work of institutions across the country. We saw in the Whatuni Student Awards earlier this year, widespread recognition from students of the investment and student-led improvements institutions have made over the past year, something which has clearly been picked up by the incoming cohort.

“Students have gone into this year’s Clearing period feeling confident that they are highly qualified candidates, and after a hugely challenging 18 months they are determined to secure the best possible university experience available to them. However, the trends on Whatuni and Complete University Guide show there are still a huge number of students, many with top grades, seeking to find the right course.  With concerns over top courses filling up fast, the challenge for the higher education sector right now is to support as many students as possible to make the decision that is right for them.”

Looking ahead

As the UK higher education sector looks ahead to future intakes, more disruption is certain as the Department of Education and sector bodies inevitably reassess what is fair in terms of university applications, exams and admissions. Only through keeping ahead of the latest trends in student demand through analysis of live student data can institutions hope to effectively strategise and respond to the upcoming unpredictable shifts in student demand over the coming years.

IDP Connect's IQ division provides data insights on UK and international student trends from 23+ million annual UK site visits and 100m global site visits. Our expert client teams are also available to support institutions with translating these live data insights into actionable guidance. To start a conversation with one of our expert team members and better understand what this year’s Clearing results mean for your institution, reach out to us today.

A-level results day report

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CP - Image - Headshot - Ella Grimwade - UK
Ella Grimwade11 August 2021