Universities should ensure students study their first choice course, regulator says

The intervention from the higher education regulator means students should pursue offers they missed because of the A-level grading crisis

Universities that retracted offers to students whose grades were lowered by Ofqual should find them places if their teacher-assessed grades match their conditional offers, the regulator for universities in England has said today.

In a dramatic U-turn yesterday (Monday 18 August) the education secretary announced that centre-assessed grades (CAGs) would be reinstated for all A-level students in England. Students will be able to keep their school-estimated grade – or the moderated grade, whichever is higher. Gavin Williamson’s counterparts in Northern Ireland and Wales made similar U-turns earlier that same day.

At least 20,000 students were rejected by their first-choice university because their adjusted grades were lower than their teacher predictions. These students – plus tens of thousands of others released to clearing ­– may now have the grades they needed to go to their first-choice university.

Where a course genuinely has not got the capacity to offer a place to a student, the university should discuss reasonable alternatives, including a place on another course or a place on the same course next year – Nicola Dandridge, Office for Students

The exams regulator, Ofqual, last month revealed that if all students were given final grades based solely on CAGs, overall A-level results for England would be up compared with 2019 by 13 percentage points at B and above. As a result of the DfE’s U-turn, thousands more students may pursue higher education or re-apply to their first-choice university.

The regulator for higher education providers in England, the Office for Students (OfS), told students who missed an offer last Thursday because their grades were lower than predicted, to “contact their university to see if they still have places available”.

Universities should ensure students study their first choice course - OfS
Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of the Office for Students, sent guidance to universities on how to respond to the government U-turn


The chief executive of the OfS, Nicola Dandridge, said: “We understand that this move brings challenges for universities and colleges, but they should do all they can to make sure that students with the grades and potential to succeed do not miss out on their first choice course.

“This is a fast-moving situation, but I am confident that universities will do all they can to ensure that as many places as possible are made available.

“Where a course genuinely has not got the capacity to offer a place to a student, the university should discuss reasonable alternatives, including a place on another course or a place on the same course next year.”

The announcement from the HE watchdog means students can find a provider that best-matches their grades – but it may mean deferring enrolment until September 2021.

A number of high-tariff universities – including Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Warwick, Edinburgh, Liverpool, Newcastle and Nottingham – still have places available for courses commencing this September.

Ms Dandridge added: “There is a great deal of information available to students as they finalise their choice of course and university for the autumn. Schools and colleges will naturally be the first port of call for many students, while Ucas, universities and colleges will also be able to help. The Discover Uni website provides official independent information to help students with their decision making.

“This is a challenging time for many students, and as they embark on their courses some will need support to improve their wellbeing and mental health. Wellbeing services at universities are there to assist, while the Student Space website provides information and support.”

Ucas said about 69% of 18-year old applicants across the UK were currently placed with their first-choice university, which it said was “higher than at the same point last year”.

But universities are facing unprecedented pressure to place students in an admissions cycle that remains in flux.

Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, said some of members are handling up to 1,000 appeals from applicants already. Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK said the U-turn meant more students will have the grades that match the offer of their first-choice university. “This will cause challenges at this late stage in the admissions process – capacity, staffing, placements and facilities – particularly with the social distance measures in place,” he explained.

Dr Simon Hyde, the incoming general secretary of the Headmasters’ and Headmistress’ Conference (HMC), and head of the King’s School, Macclesfield, said earlier today: “We need urgent clarity on how universities intend to manage admissions, as there are currently limits to the number of places they can offer. Schools cannot afford a further period of confusion.”

Read more: Schools press universities over admissions plans in wake of government U-turn

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