As universities struggle for capacity, bursary makes waiting a year more attractive
Last modified on Wed 19 Aug 2020 23.37 EDT
A university is offering a financial sweetener to persuade students to defer their studies, as it emerged that 15,000 applicants who lost out on their first-choice places due to downgraded A-levels now have the results to meet their original offer.
Amid growing fears about the impact of deferrals on the 2021 university intake, Durham University is offering bursaries to make the prospect of waiting a year more palatable. It has promised to honour all offers that are successfully met but says some students “will have to defer entry” because of capacity issues.
An email to students said those who deferred would be guaranteed college accommodation – which is always in high demand – “and will be provided with a bursary by Durham University to help with their transition to university life”. Durham was unable to say how much a bursary would be worth.
Meanwhile, a thinktank condemned the exams fiasco as “entirely avoidable” and warned it would affect universities for years to come, with top tier institutions awash with students at the expense of those lower down the rankings who could face “financially crippling” losses.
Figures published by the university admissions service Ucas show 15,000 students who were originally rejected by their firm choice university based on their moderated grades now meet the required A-level conditions of their offer with their teacher-assessed grades. Nine out of 10 of these cases related to higher tariff universities, piling pressure on admissions at top institutions.
A further 100,000 students who had their results upgraded have already been placed at their first choice university, Ucas said. Amid concerns about the disproportionate impact of the exams fiasco on disadvantaged pupils, Ucas said 7% of the 15,000 who now meet the requirements for their course are from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The Russell Group of 24 leading universities, meanwhile, called for additional government support and funding, warning of an unprecedented rise in numbers and possible deferrals.
Staff at one leading university said they were overwhelmed with students – the psychology department had an original target of 190 students, but up to 230 additional students could now be eligible following the government U-turn on A-levels.
The government is to provide extra funding for more places in medical schools to allow more students to train as doctors, and help absorb some of the extra applications from those who now had higher grades.
Because of the high competition for places medical schools demand high grades, and offer places on the assumption that a many applicants will fail to achieve them.
Ministers are said to be authorising the release of funds and dropping limits on the number of medical school places. The Medical Schools Council said it was “delighted” but was still awaiting details and warned some students may still not get a place this year.
Katie Petty-Saphon, the council’s chief executive, told the Financial Times – which first reported the news – that her members would “do everything possible to facilitate the increased number of students now eligible to study medicine, but until the precise numbers are known it is impossible to say how many will have to defer.”
It came as the Institute for Fiscal Studies branded the government’s handling of the crisis “a clear fail”. In a briefing note, the IFS said the government’s U-turn on Monday – scrapping A-level and GCSE results in England, which were moderated by an algorithm, and replacing them with teachers’ recommended grades, known as centre-assessed grades – was “entirely avoidable” and had left universities across the sector “in the lurch”.
As a result, this year’s A-level cohort has better grades than its predecessors. Thousands of students who are now qualified to study at some of the country’s top universities are being told they will have to defer as there are not enough places to go around and insufficient space on campuses.
The IFS warned that while the top universities would struggle to accommodate so many additional students – possibly resulting in more online teaching than anticipated – those lower down the rankings risked losing a substantial share of their intake, which could be “financially crippling”.
“These problems were entirely avoidable,” the IFS said. “A-level results should never have been released before being subject to scrutiny beyond Ofqual. The government should not have had to rely on shocked 18-year-olds on results day to realise there was a problem.
“Allocating A-level grades to students who did not sit exams was never going to be easy. But the government’s solution is a clear fail. This will have repercussions for universities and students, now and in the coming years.”
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