What’s changed at UK universities since 2015?

There have been plenty of changes at UK universities over the last few years - we've taken a look at some that might affect your students.

The UK higher education landscape is constantly changing, making it more than a little daunting for students and schools to keep up to date with the many options available. Staying informed would mean reading more information and analysing more new data than any one person could possibly manage. So we’ve pulled together some of the most recent trends that show changes at UK universities – such as which courses are changing and which are staying the same, and changes in grade requirements.

For universities, keeping up with subject trends and peer institutions is always challenging. Often, in order to meet demand, new courses are developed and old ones taken off syllabi. Since August 2015, over 5,400 courses have been added  into British universities. These new courses now make up 16.7% of the total courses available to applicants – and at the same time, just under 5,200 courses were removed. 

And it’s not just the study options that are in constant flux: the grades that students need to gain entry into a course change frequently as well. 2,948 courses have changed their entry requirements by at least one A-Level grade over the past two years. Over half of those courses actually made it harder for student to get accepted. 

The universities with the most drastic changes were the University of Derby, Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Creative Arts. Students applying to these schools will need 3 A-Level grades higher than the grades they would have needed two years ago: so a CCC offer becomes a BBB offer for the same course. These rising admissions standards represent a drastic change for both students and schools.

Such changes have also impacted students who are keen to pursue careers in traditional professions such as medicine, teaching and law, where acceptance rates have been diverging rapidly. Our data shows that Medicine and Dentistry are the hardest courses to get accepted to at British universities. The offer rate is 17.76%, which means that fewer than one in five students who apply for a place will receive an offer. Education has a higher offer rate, with one in two students being offered a place, but this acceptance rate is still the fourth lowest out of the 20 main subject groups.

Perhaps surprisingly, Law – a subject that is perceived as extremely competitive due to the prestige associated with it – ranks quite high for offer rates, as 73% of those who apply receive an offer. This indicates that an option that may have been out of reach for students in the past is now a more realistic prospect.

Our data also indicates that Law is one of the least variable subject areas on offer at British universities. Only one Law course was added last year, which is significantly less than the changes made to other popular subjects, such as Engineering and Medicine. Over 5% of Engineering courses and 7% of Medicine-related courses are brand new, which means that there is no historical data on acceptance rates or information that university advisors and career counsellors can use to guide their students.

We spend a lot of time thinking about how university options are changing at BridgeU, because it’s a core part of our mission – giving schools and students up-to-date information and guidance on universities is one of the most important things that we do. Our software processes over a million data points every day: to put that in context, the entire seven books of the Harry Potter series contained a total of just over a million words. 

Changes in higher education are inevitable, and what’s more, they’re desirable. It’s important that universities strive to keep innovating and that educators should match that. What we can do is make navigating those changes easier and more productive, for schools and students alike. We’ll be writing about more changes to UCAS and other university systems in the coming months, and we’d love to hear what you think – drop us a line on hi@bridge-u.com or tweet to @BridgeU to join the conversation. 

The course data in this article was supplied by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

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