The head of university admissions has said this year’s A-level results are “never going to be painless” as students are told to prepare for lower grades and increased competition for university places.

With the results released on Thursday, Ucas chief executive Claire Marchant said the government’s policy of curbing grade inflation to gradually return results to pre-pandemic levels was necessary, but it was “not easy”.

She spoke following comments from leading figures in the sector that tens of thousands of students this year were set to fail, with one estimate of 80,000 marks less than last year, which in turn could lead to up to 40,000 students and more skip your course or university of choice.

Ucas, along with English exam regulator Ofqual and the Department for Education, sought to calm nerves ahead of results day amid warnings that university admissions this year would be among the most competitive on record.

Marchant acknowledged that the offer rate had fallen, particularly affecting applicants to the most selective universities and the most popular courses such as medicine and dentistry. Given the changing circumstances, she said the universities’ proposals were “precise, conservative and cautious”.

However, it does mean that many students whose plans fell through will be looking for places through clearance later this week to consider different courses in different locations to secure their way into higher education. Some UK universities had only a few or no courses available in the week before results day.

It is the latest setback for a cohort of pupils whose education has been severely disrupted by Covid-19, with two long periods of school closures and the cancellation of GCSEs.

The Government and Ofqual have introduced a number of adaptations to the exams, including advance notification of some topics, designed to mitigate lost learning, but even England’s higher education watchdog, the Office for Students (OfS), said students should be prepared for disappointment this time around. Thursday.

After last year’s record results, where 44.8% of grades were A or A* at A level, this figure is expected to drop to 35% (compared to 25.5% in 2019). While almost one in five (19.1%) had an A* last year, this year the proportion is expected to drop to 13.5%. Similarly, A* to C grades are expected to fall from 88.5% in 2021 to 82%.

“Ofqual wants to lower grades, but when you compare that with – of course I’ve seen – the predicted grades in some schools, they’ve accepted that overall results will go down, but not necessarily for them,” John Blake, OfS Director of fair access and participation, the Telegraph said.

“This can lead to many students feeling disappointed the day their grades don’t match the grades they expected. And I think it’s important for people to prepare a little bit for that and acknowledge that.”

Marchant told attendees of a webinar hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute that the good news was that record or near-record numbers of students are likely to enroll at the first university of their choice. But she said: “Going back to either the intermediate position or, as Ofqual said, the midpoint, is never going to be painless.”

She said this week will be a busy time for clearing. Around 40% of students are likely to use the system to secure places at the last minute, and Marchant said there are 28,500 different courses available, including law and psychology.

Marchand also said that the next years are “not without risk”. This year, grades were lowered to the midpoint between pre-pandemic levels in 2019 and teacher-rated grades in 2021, but next year grades will be lowered even further to 2019 levels.

Looking ahead, she said the growing number of 18-year-olds in the population and increasing demand for higher education means the higher education environment will remain highly competitive.

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