Welsh universities' lower grades admission concerns

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Media captionThe Welsh government says it is working to encourage high-calibre students

Concerns have been raised that students are getting into universities in Wales with lower grades than elsewhere in the UK and the gap appears to be widening.

Figures show a recent stagnation in the average A-level "score" students need to get to study for a degree here.

The Conservatives said it showed Wales was falling further behind the UK, and the student fees subsidy must end.

The Welsh government said it was working with universities to encourage high-calibre students to stay in Wales.

When sixth formers apply for a degree course, they are often given a score they need to get in.

For example, an A* at A-level is worth 140 Ucas points, a B grade is worth 100. The advanced level Welsh Baccalaureate is worth 120 points.

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Media captionSimon Thomas of Plaid Cymru is concerned about the gap in quality of students

Prospective students can then work our what combination they need to get into their chosen institution, although some will ask for specific grades in specific subjects.

'Siphons off'

Figures compiled for BBC Wales by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show the average score for Welsh universities had been growing steadily over the past five years, but stagnated between 2011 and 2012.

  • The gap between the required grade points needed for study in Wales compared to other UK universities is now 27 points - the widest in five years
  • In that time - UK colleges have seen a larger increase in the number of applications
  • Welsh applications increased to 106,110 - up 11.3% since 2008
  • UK applications were up to 2,711,870 - up 23.4% since 2008

Conservative shadow education minister Angela Burns said: "These figures appear to show Wales falling further behind the rest of the UK in the A-level attainment of new students at Welsh universities.

The AM added: "Labour ministers must end their expensive student fees subsidy, which siphons off millions of pounds to English institutions, and reinvest savings in improving the teaching and research potential of Welsh universities."

The Welsh government said the fact that some universities such as Oxbridge ask for high tariff points compared to some universities in Wales may affect the figures.

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Media captionDr Simon Jones of Leeds Metropolitan University says there is a saturated market for students

A spokesperson added: "Nevertheless, in our higher education policy statement we have set a clear vision for higher education (HE) in Wales as we approach 2020.

"A key part of that document is working with our universities to encourage high-calibre students to stay in Wales to study while also attracting the brightest and best from around the world."


A spokesperson for Higher Education Wales said entry tariffs were only one of a number of admissions criteria taken into account.

"Widening access is about increasing opportunities for people from a diverse range of both educational and familial backgrounds to higher education and underlines the commitment of universities in Wales to ensuring that everyone with the determination, desire and ability to access higher education should be able to do so."

At the moment, tens of millions of pounds from Wales goes to universities in other parts of the UK.

Because the Welsh government pays the majority of Welsh students' tuition fees, universities here say the are not on an level playing field with their English counterparts.

Welsh students pay about £3,500 tuition fees with the Welsh government paying the rest through a grant, wherever they choose to study in the UK.

Prof Colin Riordan, chairman of Higher Education Wales, said last year that if the money for the tuition fee grant was spent in Wales, it could be used to improve both their research capacity and the support for students.

A review into the funding of higher education institutions in Wales will report back in 2016.

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