There has been a fall in the number of students accepted on to UK degree courses this year, Ucas figures show.
So far, 425,830 people have had places confirmed – down 2% on the same point last year, according to data published by the university admissions service.
In 2021, a record 435,430 people, from the UK and overseas, had places confirmed.
However, this year’s figure is still the second highest on record, and up 16,870 compared with 2019 when exams were last held.
Ucas said 19% more 18-year-olds in the UK achieved a place at either their first or insurance choice this year, compared with 2019.
The number of students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds to gain places on courses is 6,850 this year, up by 3,770 on 2019.
The admissions service said this translated to a narrowing of the gap between the most and least advantaged, with the ratio at 2:36 in 2019, 2:29 this year, and 2:34 in 2021.
The return to exams saw the marked reduction in the proportion of As and A*s awarded at A-level following record grades for two years running.
Results awarded in England, Wales and Northern Ireland revealed top grades down by 8.4 percentage points on last year’s record results, while A*s alone have decreased by 4.5 points, in line with government plans to bring results gradually back to pre-pandemic levels.
In England about 36% of A-level entries gained A and A* grades this year, compared with 44% of entries last year. The number students who got three A*s at A-level has also gone down, from 12,865 last year to 8,570.
For David Phillips, managing director of City & Guilds, against a background of skills shortages and steep rises in the cost of living “it’s more important than ever that young people make informed decisions about their futures.”
He said City & Guilds’ research had found that 40% of young people in the UK planned to attend university – up from 35% this time last year. But, with labour market analysis suggesting that only 29% of UK jobs typically required a degree level qualification, “young people could be setting themselves up for unnecessary debt without a clear onward trajectory.”
University attendance was certainly not the right path for all, said Phillips. “Our recent Great Jobs research shone a light on the essential jobs and meaningful careers that make up 50% of all UK employment opportunities – many of which rely on vocational routes such as traineeships, apprenticeships and T levels.
“As young people look to invest in their future, its vital schools provide robust careers advice based on current labour market insight to ensure that young people, parents and teachers are made aware of the full breadth of educational and training routes, outside of just traditional academic ones, that can lead to rewarding and well-paid careers.”
For Robert West, head of education and skills policy at the CBI, the arrival of the first T-level results was an opportunity to reflect on the slow roll-out of the qualification. He said :“While surveys have shown that T-level students have felt particularly positive about their experience, there is much work to be done to raise awareness of T-levels, especially amongst employers.
“Raising understanding of T-levels amongst young people and their parents is crucial. Given concerns about the availability of work placements required to complete T-levels, awareness among companies who may offer placements for T-levels must also be improved.”