The impact of grades U-turn on universities

The government’s U-turn on A level grades brought some good news for those students who missed their first choice of University and provided some assurance that there was no unfair advantage and inequality in the system. The way these changes came about so late in the admissions process has put some universities in a difficult position. Universities had been planning for a limitation on the number of students they could take but with the late decision to abandon student number controls and many students now being qualified to enrol in their first-choice institutions, the Universities have had revisit their initial plans. This is not without difficulty as universities are faced with having to make decisions about staff numbers, accommodation, availability of teaching rooms and lab benches, work placements, and mental health and other support facilities. It will also be challenging for the institutions to protect the overall student experience and in the current environment ensuring that social distancing measures are in place and are effective.

In another development some universities which are oversubscribed after the A level results policy change are seeking legal guidance as to whether they can ask the students who have fulfilled their conditions of their offer to defer their place. Whilst some universities have expanded the intake to accommodate additional students, but some do not simply have the capacity to do so. As reported in the press, this is a concern for some highly selective universities that usually offer more places than they have available where they know that a portion won’t get the grades required. One university has offered a discount against university accommodation charges for one year for those who opt to deferred entry. Others have considered other forms of incentive for students to defer for a year.  

All in all, the last few weeks have been particularly challenging for institutions already dealing with the consequences of the pandemic. And there is more to come as they implement their return to campus strategies.       

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