The 2022 A-level results are in, and the number of students receiving A or A* grades has fallen – down by 8.4% on 2021.
For the first time since 2019, A-level results are being decided by formal exams. Students were warned that grades were likely to be lower than in 2020 and 2021, when cancelled exams and teacher assessments in A-levels led to record high results. Nevertheless, the proportion of students receiving A grades is up from pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
A busy end to the admissions round is under way for universities and students, and the next steps for students still living with the impact of the pandemic are becoming clearer.
In 2021, some universities were over subscribed and had to offer significant incentives for students to defer their places. While the number of students in 2022 accepted on a UK university course – 425,830 – is higher than in 2019 and the second highest on record, it is 2% lower than in 2021. Just a few days before the results were out, thousands of students did not yet hold an offer of an university place.
Over the past two years, students studying qualifications, whether BTEC, T-level or A-level, have had to cope with the consequences of the pandemic for a significant proportion of their course. This has included school closures and remote lessons, social isolation, illness and increased levels of mental stress.
Highest number of applications
Nevertheless, 2022 has seen the highest ever numbers of applications to higher education, with 44% of 18 year olds applying. This number includes record numbers of students from areas of the country with historically low participation in higher education. It demonstrates that many young people believe higher education can make a difference to their future opportunities.
For the lucky ones who get the grades to gain a place at their first choice of university, planning for their degree course starts right away. A record number of Scottish students have already been accepted to their first choice of university.
The best advice for those students who don’t receive confirmation that they have been accepted by their first choice university is to ring the university, who will have staff on hand to explore their options.
For students who haven’t got a university place, it is still possible to explore options though clearing – which allows students without offers to find places on university courses that haven’t been fully subscribed. Students in this position should try to keep calm, write down their options and avoid quick decisions.
For those young people who do go to university, there will be challenges. With the cost of living for all rising rapidly, people on a lower income – as many students are – will feel the pinch of higher bills for food or rent.
Support from universities
The pandemic saw a serious and concerning rise in mental health issues affecting young people. Universities need to be ready to give holistic support to students as they transition into university and settle into undergraduate life. This means support for academic transition needs to be delivered in the context of good available support for mental health and wellbeing.
However, Universities UK, an advocacy groups for universities, has recently pointed out the wide range of benefits for those who study for a degree, including the £9,500 more per year on average graduates in England earn compared with non-graduates. It also draws attention to the value of degrees to improve the life chances of young people, to build skills and to contribute to society.
For many young people, getting a degree gives them access to a vocation such as teaching or working as a health professional. For others it is a path to travel and adventure. For many, the university journey is a place where young people find their tribe and begin to understand their identity.
For the class of 22, making it to university might mean life-changing opportunities. Given the challenges and restrictions of the last few years, this has never been more important.