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A-Level special: How pupils performed across Northern Ireland... and what lies ahead in the education scramble

Success for thousands, but many more facing anxious wait

By Lindsay Fergus

More than 11,000 Northern Ireland students have secured a place at university following A-Level results – but thousands more face a nervous wait.

As many as 9,000 student didn't achieve the necessary grades or weren't given a firm or insurance offer by their preferred university.

A record number of students from Northern Ireland applied for a university place this year through Ucas – 20,300, which is up by almost 1,000 in four years.

Of those 20,300 applicants 13,490 had received conditional offers from university but by last night just 11,100 had a confirmed university place, suggesting around 2,500 had not been awarded the grades they needed for their course.

According to Ucas, 4,050 people from here were eligible for clearing – the process of finding university courses that have vacancies through Ucas.

But many of them, hoping to have stayed in Northern Ireland for their degree course, will have to look to the rest of UK or reconsider their options.

Both Queen's and the University of Ulster received more than three applications for every one undergraduate place.

Last night they had around 100 places each available through clearing.

Northern Ireland universities have continued to be the preferred choice for local students with 18,000 of the 20,300 applicants opting for at least one of their course choices at Queen's University Belfast, University of Ulster, Stranmillis University College or St Mary's University College.

With less than 11,000 first year full-time undergraduate places here, thousands faced disappointment.

Northern Ireland's university fees, which have been frozen at £3,685, are considerably lower than the £9,000 being charged by many universities in England. The additional cost of living away from home can also be a barrier.

There has also been a surge in non-EU applicants for Northern Ireland universities, more than doubling from 640 in 2010 to 1,500. However, the Higher Education Minister Dr Stephen Farry, as well as Queen's and Ulster University, would like to see that figure even higher.

Non-EU students are a key revenue driver for the higher education institutions and help to enhance the universities' global reputation.

Students who haven't got the grades they needed for their first choice are being advised not to panic.

A University of Ulster spokeswoman said: "Even if you did not get the grades you needed, there may still be a chance you could get onto your preferred course and if not, there are certain to be other degree programmes that you are well suited to."

The university, which has four campuses, advised students not to restrict their options just because one door may have been closed to them.

"A University of Ulster degree is a passport to a rewarding career. Without a degree, there are many careers that will be closed off and we encourage students not to restrict their options."

Meanwhile, a Queen's spokeswoman said it still had vacancies in the areas of architecture, planning, civil engineering, politics and economics.

The Higher Education Minister added: "The importance of making an informed decision following exam results is imperative to effective career planning. Taking time now to explore options will pay dividends in the future.

"There are many opportunities available to you and I would urge you to examine these fully. My department's careers service can help you unlock your potential."

You've got your results... what now?

1. Your place at university has been confirmed: Once your place is confirmed you don't need to do anything further in Ucas Track. You'll receive a confirmation letter shortly with instructions from the university, read this carefully and keep it safe.

2. You got better exam results than expected: You could take a look at the Ucas Adjustment service to see if there's anything else you'd like to study. If you're happy with your first choice then stick with that. However, with Adjustment you can see other options. Adjustment is available until August 31.

3. If you didn't receive any offers: There are many options available if you have no offers. Ucas Clearing is one – it gives you a chance to see which courses have places remaining. Identify courses (with vacancies) that interest you and contact the course providers directly to see if they will offer you a place. You'll know you're in Clearing if your Track status says 'You are in Clearing' or 'Clearing has started'.

4. Your exam results weren't as expected: If you had conditional offers but your exam results didn't go to plan, you can use Clearing. Clearing vacancies will be listed in Ucas' search tool. If your exam results are reasonable and you're flexible on subject/location, there's still a good chance you'll find another course. If your Track doesn't say either of these yet, it might just be waiting for your results to update – get in touch with the universities/colleges if it's taking a while – they might still be considering you, even if your results are a bit lower than required.

5. Undecided about what to do: Maybe things didn't work out how you planned or perhaps you've changed your mind about what you want to do. If so, there are plenty of other options to think about.

Apprenticeships – give you the chance to earn while you learn and gain a qualification. They're a good way to gain the skills and experience you need for many careers.

Gap year – You can gain skills and experience on a gap year. They give time to focus on what you want to do next, and can enhance your CV or university application.

Study – Take a foundation degree (usually two years) or study part-time instead. Speak to your local further education college as soon as possible.

Work – If you want to go into a career, get advice from the Careers Service Northern Ireland.

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