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As the number of students seeking a university place through clearing broke records, yet again, in 2019, Higher Education (HE) institutions face an undeniable fact: Clearing is changing. Changing in student perception, changing in student use, and changing in terms of how HE institutions need to approach it.

2019 UCAS figures showed a 10% increase in Clearing acceptances year on year, while Whatuni and the Complete University Guide saw a 170% increase in traffic on 2019’s A-Level results day. These figures tie into an ongoing trend towards Post Qualifications Admissions, here understood as when students apply for places prior to getting their grades, but places are handed out after results are known.

Gone are the days when Clearing was just a desperate last resort for those who had failed to gain their required grades, and when only certain universities regarded as ‘recruiters’ rather than ‘selectors’ took part in this annual high-pressure event. Now, the Clearing and Confirmation period is becoming increasingly varied, with a wider range of institutions and a much larger, broader, range of students taking part.

What does this all mean for Higher Education institutions? And how should politicians and policymakers respond in the context an ongoing debate over Post Qualifications Applications (PQA) where students apply to higher education after receiving their secondary education results?

While institutions, politicians and education experts have vocally espoused a variety of arguments, one key group of stakeholders, the students themselves, has thus far been overlooked. Without the perspectives and experiences of students undergoing the admission process, any debate as to the merits, impact and even practicality of PQA is effectively obsolete - which is why we’ve included them.

Taking a deep dive into our own unique Clearing data, we’ve surveyed over 2000 first year and year 13 students to discover how students are adapting to and shaping an evolving admission process as well as their views on the future of PQA.

Our results revealed a clear position from students:

-       Majority of students would prefer to apply to university with their actual grades

-       Predicted grades heavily influence what universities students look at

-       Applying to university with predicted grades creates high stress and low confidence for students

As the debate over PQA inevitable heats up in the coming period of A-level exams, results day and 2020 Clearing, we will deliver further insights produced by our student data, contextualized with help from a number of key experts, delivering in-depth analysis of what the future holds (or should hold) for University admissions.

While the nuances of how PQA would affect student choices, and the admissions process, will be explored in detail at a later point, the clear headline is an overwhelming student preference for applying with confirmed A-level grades.

Our survey revealed that 69.3% of first-year university students and 77.2% of year 13 students said they would prefer to wait for their actual grades before applying to university, rather than apply based on predicted grades.

Our survey feedback, combined with the sheer number of students applying for a place through clearing, suggests that students are increasingly seeing A-level results day less as a time of placement confirmation and more as a time for application. Students are increasingly preferring to make these huge decisions about their academic future after receiving their final grades, when their full range of Higher Education options has become clear.

While the future of PQA continues to be debated, one clear takeaway for Higher Education institutions is the vital importance of the clearing period. As students increasingly turn to Clearing, not as a last resort but as a prime opportunity to “shop around” for the course they want, universities must be prepared to up their game in order to attract candidates.

CP - Image - Headshot - Ella Grimwade - UK
Ella Grimwade29 January 2020