Universities may be forced to start from scratch with applications after the A level results U-turn

It is still unclear how universities are expected to meet the increased demand (Photo: Getty Images)It is still unclear how universities are expected to meet the increased demand (Photo: Getty Images)
It is still unclear how universities are expected to meet the increased demand (Photo: Getty Images)

Universities across England were plunged into chaos on 17 August after the government announced a U-turn over the grading of A level results.

Following the outcry after almost 40 per cent of pupils saw their A level results downgraded due to Ofqual’s algorithm, the government agreed that school or college estimated grades can be used instead - whichever grade is the highest.

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But the decision has meant that thousands who initially did not meet the grades required for their chosen university now meet the criteria, leaving institutions with a difficult choice over admissions.

Will university places be increased?

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has lifted the cap on student numbers at universities in England to allow more pupils to progress.

Ministers have also appealed to universities to be as flexible as possible when admitting pupils onto courses, stating that they expect institutions to honour all offers that were made. However, the move has left many institutions with more demand than they are able to meet.

Speaking at a briefing on Monday (17 Aug), Mr Williamson said, “We are already working very closely with the university sector to make sure that we do everything we can do to build as much capacity in there.

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“We expect universities to be flexible. We expect them to go above and beyond to be able to honour those commitments.

“That’s why today we have lifted the student number caps in order for universities to be able to expand and put extra capacity into the system.”

Will more offers be made?

As yet, it is still unclear how universities are expected to meet the increased demand, but they may be expected to make additional offers on top of the capacity they have already met.

Alternatively - and more controversially - it is possible they could cancel the offers that were made and restart the offer and clearing process from scratch.

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Some universities have already voiced concerns about a lack of capacity, staffing, accommodation and facilities if they are forced to accept more students, particularly with social distancing requirements.

Pupils who have managed to secure their first choice following the U-turn announcement may instead be asked to defer their place by a year if there is no space left on their preferred course.

The government has said that pupils who have already accepted an offer will be able to release this if they have a different offer (such as their first choice) reinstated.

What advice have pupils been given?

UCAS has advised pupils who did not get into their first choice institution to initially seek advice from their teachers and parents before contacting the university, and not to make any immediate decisions about their future plans.

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In a statement, UCAS said, “At the moment, 69% of 18-year-old main scheme applicants across the UK are placed with their first-choice university, which is higher than at the same point last year.

“For those students who were not placed with their firm (or insurance) choice university, our advice is that you don’t need to make your decision immediately.

“Speak with your parents, guardians and teachers and then your first conversation will need to be to your firm (or insurance) choice university.

“We will be issuing new advice for students and schools and this will be sent directly to students as soon as they are able to take a decision.”