DUBAI // With butterflies in his stomach, Maulik Thakkar, 17, walked through the school gates one last time yesterday to receive his A-level results.
Behind him came a steady stream of other pupils, some with their parents, to receive report cards from the teachers at the Dubai British School (DBS).
"It has become so competitive to get into a university because everyone is well prepared and the calibre is so high," said Maulik, an arts pupil who scored three As and a B in his subjects - enough to secure him a place at a Canadian university.
Mark Ford, the principal of DBS, said their results were higher than the United Kingdom's national averages, with 84 per cent of pupils achieving grades between A* and C - up from 76 per cent last year.
Results across British curriculum schools in the UAE showed an upwards trend. British School Al Khubairat (BSAK) achieved a 100 per cent pass rate among 90 pupils who sat the exams.
This year, 75 per cent of grades were between A* and B - up from 73 per cent last year and 71 per cent in 2009.
"More than 95 per cent of pupils have got into their university of choice," said the BSAK principal Paul Coackley.
BSAK pupils have been offered positions at top universities including Cambridge, Bristol, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Yale.
One such pupil, Jad Abi Esber, will be starting an engineering programme at Cambridge in October. He said he "breathed a sigh of relief" when his father called him in Lebanon, where he is holidaying, to inform him of his results: three A*s and an A.
He took mathematics, physics, chemistry and economics in Year 13.
"I had applied to five universities in the UK and got the conditional offer from Cambridge, which is also my first choice," he said. "But getting a confirmed spot relied on my grades. Now universities have upped their entry requirements, so it has become tough."
Natalie Kirby from Jumeirah College (JC) achieved 4 A*s. She said her dream of reading Psychology at Durham University had provided her motivation.
"I worked really, really hard for this," she said. "I've never tried harder in my life."
Natalie said securing a place at a UK university was getting harder every year as pass rates increased.
"Also, given the economic climate, many people are going back to education and grade requirements are going up. You cannot get into Ivy League universities if you don't have A*s anymore."
Pass rates for the exams have risen to 97.8 per cent and 15 universities in England now want applicants to have at least one A* grade.
Applications to UK universities are at a record high, with 673,570 applications this year. The number of candidates taking a gap year has also fallen by 40 per cent.
The sudden rush for university places is partly due to a new fee structure that involves a rise in tuition fees to £9,000 (Dh54,682) in September, 2012.
Students who join in September this year will not be affected by the increase and will pay the current tuition fee of £3,000 (Dh18,225).
As more British students are rushing to enrol, there are fewer spaces available for international students.
An Emirati pupil, Kamela Al Qubaisi, who studied at BSAK, said she would still prefer a gap year to improve her portfolio. "It is a chance for me to plan better and do stuff ... like volunteer work and travelling," she said.
Kamela received A*s in mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics and said she would like to study medicine.
"I think what universities want is a well-rounded individual with liberal views and a broad perspective. So I do not think it'll be hard to get into one."
Abhinav Mathur, from Jumeirah College, achieved four A*s and will also be studying medicine. "I had expected a bit lower and am happy with the results," he said. He will start at Edinburgh University this year, where he beat 400 other applicants to take one of 50 spots. "My chances were boosted by the extra-curricular activities that I was involved in, like music, debating and working experience shadowing a doctor."