Revealed: Quarter of UK universities are ‘bribing’ A-level pupils with laptops and up to £1,200 cash if they select them as a ‘firm’ choice on UCAS form in desperate scramble to fill places

  • Figures show universities offer ‘incentives’ to encourage A-level students to join
  • Of 133 universities asked by i, 35 said they offered such incentives to students
  • It comes as 80,000 students expected to get places through clearing this year
  • Record number of students have applied for university in 2020, despite Covid-19

More than a quarter of UK universities are attempting to ‘bribe’ A-leve pupils with laptops and discounts and cash offers if the chose them as a ‘firm’ choice on UCAS forms, it has been revealed.

In a desperate scramble to fill places in a competitive market, universities are trying to tempt students with ‘incentives’, an investigation by the i has found.

Freedom of information (FOI) requests sent to 133 universities showed as many as a 35 universities offered the incentives last year or will this year, the paper reports.

They include the University of Portsmouth, Hants, who offer a £1,000 scholarships for those who meet their grades as part of their unconditional offers.

The university, which paid out to 376 students last year, has previously defended the scheme, which it says provides a ‘carrot’ to students not to ‘sit back’ in their A-levels. 

Meanwhile, the University of Northampton gives every student a free laptop.

More than a quarter of UK universities are attempting to ‘bribe’ A-leve pupils with laptops and discounts and cash offers if the chose them as a ‘firm’ choice on UCAS forms, it has been revealed

The University of Portsmouth, Hants, offer a £1,000 scholarships for those who meet their grades as part of their unconditional offers

The University of Northampton gives every student a free laptop, which can be exchanged for £500 in campus credit or £500 discount on halls of residence rent

The University of Stirling provides £1,000 to all students the UK who meet the terms of their offer

University of Hull – Gives students £1,200 for achieving A-level B,B,C  

University of Derby – Gives students £1,000 if they put as their firm choice and go on to get B,B,B at A-level

University of Portsmouth – £1,000 scholarship for students who meet or exceed their grades

University of Stirling – £1,000 to all students who meet terms of offer

University of Northampton – every student gets a free laptop, or £500 campus credit or £500 off halls of residence rent 

Queens of University Belfast – £500 tuition discount, free flights and cinema tickets

University of Westminster – Offered a three-year payment of £4,500 to some students who applied through clearing last year

St George’s University, London –  £1,000 to all students starting the Clinical Pharmacology undergraduate course in 2019

This can be exchanged for a £500 discount on halls of residence rent or a £500 credit which can be spent on campus.   

The University of Hull gives students £1,200 for achieving grades of B,B and C in their A-levels, while the University of Derby gives £1,000 to students who achieve three B grades after making them a firm choice.

Queen’s University Belfast offers a £500 tuition fees discount plus other benefits including free flights and cinema tickets, while the University of Stirling provides £1,000 to all students the UK who meet the terms of their offer.

The incentive schemes have been criticised by some, including Tom Richmond, director of the EDSK think-tank and an adviser to Michael Gove when he was Education Secretary, who described some of the offers as a ‘shameless bribe’.

He told the I: ‘If universities want to attract more applicants, they should focus on improving the quality and value of their courses.

‘Regrettably, some of them are instead choosing to shamelessly bribe students with these ‘incentives’ even when applicants have not demonstrated any special talent or aptitude.’

The figures come after thousands of extra students are expected to get a place at university this year in what’s being predicted as the biggest ever year of clearing, as institutions place ‘quantity over quality to earn some bucks’.

With a fall in overseas students predicted due to the coronavirus, places for British students have been increased.

According to The Times, UCAS is predicting 80,000 students could find a place during the clearing scheme – which runs in the two weeks after A-Levels results day in August. 

Queen’s University Belfast offers a £500 tuition fees discount plus other benefits including free flights and cinema tickets, while the University of Stirling provides £1,000 to all students the UK who meet the terms of their offer

The University of Derby gives £1,000 to students who achieve three B grades after making them a firm choice

The University of Hull gives students £1,200 for achieving grades of B,B and C in their A-levels

Last year 73,000 students found a course during the same period.

Institutions have a deal with the government allowing them to take in five per cent more UK students than their targets.  

Record number set to go through clearing 

Universities face their ‘busiest’ ever clearing period as a record number of students are due to take up places through the system, the head of Ucas has predicted.

With less than a week to go until youngsters receive their A-level results, nearly three in four of the top institutions have vacancies on their undergraduate programmes on the clearing website.

And more than 4,500 courses at the elite Russell Group universities still have spaces. School leavers who have had their gap-year plans disrupted by Covid-19 will be among those who will bypass the main application scheme and search for a course through clearing, the admissions service predicted.

Analysis showed that for applicants living in England, there were 29,163 courses with availability across 327 universities and colleges. Seventeen of the 24 Russell Group universities had vacancies for English residents – a total of 4,509 courses between them – on the Ucas clearing site ahead of results day on Thursday.

Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, believes as many as 80,000 applicants could find a place via clearing, up from 73,325 last year, despite fears about the impact of Covid-19 on the student experience. She said it was a ‘good year’ for prospective students in Britain who wanted to attend university in autumn as institutions will be competing to fill their courses at a time of uncertainty.

Miss Marchant said the ‘fragile’ situation’, where the number of overseas students could fall amid Covid-19, alongside the fact there are fewer 18-year-olds in the population, may play to UK students’ advantage when applying.

 

It comes as school leavers have applied in record numbers to start university this autumn despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Admissions service Ucas says a record 40.5 per cent of all UK 18-year-olds have applied, despite fears over the impact of social distancing on college life.

By June 30, 281,980 school leavers were looking for places, a small rise from 275,520 last year despite a reduction in the population aged 18.

There had been concern that young people would be put off higher education this year after institutions moved towards a mix of online and face-to-face classes.

There were also concerns after A-Level exams were cancelled this year due to the pandemic, and results relying on school averages and teachers’ own assessment of their pupils, results this year are set to be slightly different.

Before clearing begins on August 13, universities have been urged to show some flexibility with their entry requirements.  

It also comes as A-level pupils whose marks are downgraded by computer face missing out on university places while exam boards sift through a flood of appeals, experts warned last night.

This year’s exams were cancelled because of coronavirus so marks will be based on teachers’ estimates of what entrants would have achieved.

But exam boards are expected to lower nearly 40 per cent of grades using a computerised marking scheme to ensure results are not significantly higher than previous years.

This means tens of thousands of pupils will not achieve the marks they had hoped for when they get their A-level grades on Thursday.

Those who appeal must be awarded a higher grade by September 7 to attend the university they have chosen.

But exam boards, which are in charge of appeals, have refused to commit to this timeframe.

Instead, they have given themselves 42 days to resolve complaints – meaning the university term will have started before most cases are dealt with.

Many pupils, teachers and parents in England are nervous about this year’s results after last week’s debacle over the Scottish Higher exams.

In Scotland, 124,000 grades awarded by teachers were lowered, with the poorest entrants getting their marks downgraded at more than double the rate of the richest.

Pupils in England who are unhappy with their grades must rely on their schools to mount appeals for them, based on stringent criteria, potentially adding to the delays. Last night none of the ‘big three’ exams boards – AQA, OCR and Pearson Edexcel – provided assurances that it would be able to meet the September 7 deadline set by university admissions body Ucas.

The Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ), which represents the exam boards, said its members were ‘committed to completing appeals as quickly as possible’.

But it admitted grade appeals may take six weeks or longer. This means a complaint lodged on A-levels results day – and most will come later than this – does not have to be dealt with until September 24.

Record number of school leavers apply for a place at university despite the impact of social distancing on college life number 

School leavers have applied in record numbers to start university this autumn despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Admissions service Ucas says a record 40.5 per cent of all UK 18-year-olds have applied, despite fears over the impact of social distancing on college life.

By June 30, 281,980 school leavers were looking for places, a small rise from 275,520 last year despite a reduction in the population aged 18.

There had been concern that young people would be put off higher education this year after institutions moved towards a mix of online and face-to-face classes.

Some are considering making students live in a ‘bubble’ with people on the same courses to limit social mixing, while others are planning virtual freshers’ week events.

The data also reveals that a quarter (25.4 per cent) of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have applied to university or college.

And the number of new nursing applicants between January and June was 63 per cent higher than the same period last year – leaping from 7,880 to 12,840.

Nick Hillman of the Higher Education Policy Institute said: ‘The appetite for higher education continues to grow –and it’s not surprising, given that the alternative options, like finding a secure job, will be worse this year.’

However, would-be students can ask to defer their studies at any point in the application cycle and if there is a second wave of Covid-19 or more local lockdowns in the months to come, then the number of actual enrolments may yet plummet.

Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant said the figures were ‘very encouraging’ but the situation was ‘fragile’.

 

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