Around half of school-leavers were accepted on to degree courses this year with A-level grades lower than the advertised entry requirements, new data reveals.
Students from the poorest backgrounds were more likely to take up places with lower grades than advertised compared with all undergraduates nationally, according to figures published by Ucas.
This may be due to "contextualised offers" – whereby an institution takes into account a student's schooling and background when deciding whether to make an offer, and what grades are needed to secure the place, the admissions service said.
The latest data shows that 49 per cent of 18-year-olds in England, Northern Ireland and Wales, sitting at least three A levels, were accepted on to courses with exam grades that were below the requirements advertised by the university for the course.
Universities and colleges typically advertise standard grade requirements, for example on their own websites, for students to view when applying for courses.
University access for disadvantaged students
The figures also show that this year 60 per cent of applicants from the 20 per cent most disadvantaged backgrounds were accepted on to courses with A-level grades below the advertised requirements.
These figures are based on acceptances on to courses for which A-level entry requirements were supplied to Ucas.
"Findings from the 2019 cycle suggest that applicants should not be deterred from applying to courses with challenging entry requirements," Ucas said.
"Universities and colleges frequently accept applicants who perform below their entry requirements. Encouragingly, this is most often experienced by disadvantaged applicants."
Ucas' report also reveals that around one in six – 17 per cent – of the most disadvantaged students said they received a contextual offer, yet many were unaware that universities made these types of offer.
The report also shows:
- In total, a record 541,240 students were accepted on to undergraduate courses this year.
- A high of 97.8 per cent of UK 18-year-olds received an offer of a place after applying through the main application scheme, up 0.2 percentage points on last year.
- Nearly three in four – 73.6 per cent – of UK 18-year-old accepted applicants got a place at their first choice.
- The most advantaged students are around 2.3 times more likely to go into higher education than the most disadvantaged, but the most disadvantaged students are also now 61 per cent more likely to study for a degree than they were a decade ago.
- Some 73,320 people found places through clearing – up nearly 10 per cent compared with last year.
- A total of 28,030 people used the new Ucas "self-release" system, which allows students with a confirmed place to release themselves into clearing. Nearly 99 per cent of those who then reapplied found places through clearing.
Clare Marchant, Ucas' chief executive, said: "Today's report shows the unprecedented opportunity for anyone currently thinking of applying to university to be ambitious with their choices.
"The trends identified through our analysis are very likely to continue into this year, with universities, colleges and schools continuing to support students from a variety of backgrounds."