Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland A-level stars shine brightest

A-level students from Northern Ireland have outperformed their counterparts in England and Wales.

For the first time, A*s were awarded to outstanding students. In Northern Ireland, an A* grade was achieved in 9.3% of exams. In England and Wales, it was achieved in 8.1% of exams.

More than 12,000 pupils across Northern Ireland have been receiving their A and AS-level results.

Grades A* to C were achieved by 84.5%, down 0.1% on last year.

Grades A* and A, was awarded to 35.7% of pupils, an increase of 1.2% compared to the number of A grades in 2009.

Pupils receiving their results on Thursday are likely to find competition for university places tougher than ever.

Strict government limits on places and unprecedented numbers of applicants may mean many more students end up without the course they wanted.

Last week, Queen's University and the University of Ulster reported rises of 9% and 10% on applications from 2009.

Queen's University saw 20,645 applicants for 3,478 places.

The University of Ulster had 32,879 applications for 4,900 places.

Magee College in Londonderry, one of the University of Ulster's four campuses, reported 6,145 people had applied for just 951 available places, representing a rise of 22% from 2009.

Despite the enormous demand for places, universities have been told they must stick to a limit on the number of students they accept.

Last year, the University of Ulster was fined £699,000 for taking in 699 more students than its allocation allowed.

The lecturers union, the UCU, estimated that up to 170,000 people in the UK could be left without a course.

A number of universities, including two in Wales and eight in Scotland, already have no places on offer.

'Don't panic'

However, careers counsellors are advising disappointed students not to panic and to take all available advice before taking their next step.

The head of the admissions and access service at Queen's University, Jennifer Dwyer, advises students to get as much information as possible before making a decision.

"There are many people who can help. Students unsure about which option to pursue should discuss their situation carefully with their parents, their school or college or the careers service of the Department for Employment and Learning," she said.

Push.co.uk, an online guide to UK universities advises that many students who choose a new course at the last minute, either because they didn't get the grades they needed or because they want to capitalize on better-than-expected results, end up dropping out of their courses before they finish them.

Johnny Rich, editor of Push.co.uk, said: "Snapping up a place in clearing may get you into uni, but if it's not what you want, you may leave with huge debts and no degree. You'd be better off waiting a year or two till you can get the place you want."

Universities receive A-level and AS-level results directly from UCAS and students do not need to send their results themselves.

Application decisions made by Queen's, the University of Ulster, and Stranmillis College are posted on a website hosted by Queen's on the morning of 19 August and updated twice each day until clearing ends.

For the first time this year a new A* grade has been awarded to particularly outstanding students. This is due to complaints that too many A grades made it difficult for universities and employers to choose between pupils.

Students in Northern Ireland, England and Wales have been receiving their results online, by text, e-mail, post and in person through their schools and colleges, and the exam boards.

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