UK & World News
Record Numbers Off To Uni As A* Grades Rise
A record number of students have been accepted into university, with a rise in the number achieving top marks in their A-level exams.
Ucas, the organisation which handles the admissions process, said 396,990 young people had been awarded places on degree courses - up 3% on last year.
Meanwhile, the number of students achieving at least one A* grade rose 0.6% to 8.2%, although the number gaining an A grade or above fell by 0.3%.
The overall pass rate also fell for the first time in 32 years, with the number of students achieving an A*-E grade down 0.1% to 98%.
Students who received lower grades are expected to enjoy unprecedented access to university, with up to 30,000 new places created.
A decision by the Government to abolish the cap on student numbers could have a dramatic effect on this year's cohort, with fierce competition among universities seeking to attract school leavers.
Some were offering cash "scholarships", while others were offering reductions on accommodation and free tablet computers.
Mary Curnock-Cook, chief executive of Ucas, told Sky News: "Compared with their brothers and sisters two or three years ago, students will feel it's a little easier (to get into university)."
Coventry University, which is offering £1,000 cashback, said the giveaways did make a difference but did not unduly influence students.
Deputy vice chancellor Ian Marshall said: "Most students come to university on the basis of the subject they are interested in and the reputation of the institution."
The decision to expand the number of student places comes amid increasing concern about quality assurance in higher education and job prospects for graduates, with recent figures showing almost half of graduates were in non-graduate level jobs.
However, Education Secretary Nicky Morgan said: "This shouldn't be about ever higher numbers - it should be about ever higher standards.
"An A-level is still a significant achievement ... and we want an A-level that future employers and universities have confidence in."
Rhasan Brunner, who received an offer to study at London Goldsmith's University, said he was deferring his place to take an apprenticeship.
The 19-year-old, who studied at Brooke House Sixth Form College in Hackney, northeast London, said students should think twice about doing degrees, which now cost up to £9,000 a year in tuition fees alone.
"That debt is going to stay over their head for quite a long time," he said.
"Plus jobs are really rare and scarce and quite competitive nowadays, so it doesn't really guarantee you a job after university."
Access to university has been expanding since the 1960s, when a report by economist Lionel Robbins advocated opening up higher education to all those who qualified by virtue of ability and attainment.
Two years ago, the Government abolished the cap on students with the highest grades, essentially paving the way for the expansion of the elite Russell Group of universities.
But the new expansion for students with lower grades - which could also include an additional 60,000 extra students next year - has prompted concerns about quality.
Jude Heaton, from Teach First, a charity set up to end inequality in education, said: "The risk is we create a two-tier system, where pupils from richer backgrounds go to the most selective institutions ... (while) people from poorer backgrounds have an almost second tier university education."
Earlier this week, social mobility charity Sutton Trust warned students from disadvantaged backgrounds are 10 times less likely to apply to the UK's 13 most selective universities.
There are also reports that today's results will confirm a deepening of the gender divide, as girls continue to shun STEM - science, technology, engineering and maths.