The Government's A level U-turn: What does it mean for universities?

Nicole Wootton-Cane
Nicole Wootton-Cane

18 August 2020 • 3 min read

Universities and colleges in the UK are facing an overload of admissions onto courses after a government U-turn on A level grading policy, which will see students awarded the grades estimated by their teachers.

The reversal in policy follows days of protest and uproar after approximately 40% of A level results were downgraded from the predicted grades provided by teachers by an algorithm devised by the government. 

Whilst the news has been welcomed by students across the country, it presents a new challenge for universities, who will now be pressured to accept students they originally gave offers onto courses that they filled during clearing. 

The government has lifted admissions caps, which were originally placed in an attempt to keep UK universities competitive, in order to allow more students onto courses and ease pressure on the system.

But Vice chancellors are warning students that they may not be able to find places for every eligible student, meaning that some offers will not be honoured despite the student achieving the qualifying grades.

Admissions caps already apply to certain courses that include work placements, such as Social Care. 

Tim Bradshaw, head of the Russell Group universities, said that the university sector could only do so much on places “without stretching resources to the point that it undermines the experience for all, not to mention ensuring that students and staff are kept safe as we follow the steps needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic”.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, called on the government to provide “urgent clarification” for situations like these.

He added that the situation will “cause challenges”, considering the late stage of the admissions process, but that “universities will do everything they can to work through these issues in the days ahead.”

Jarvis also tweeted that the removal of admissions caps would lead to “volatility” of students moving between universities, with some becoming oversubscribed but others potentially losing students. 

It is likely that highly competitive universities such as the Russell Group will face the biggest test in placing all eligible students.

Jarvis argued that the government should provide financial support for those institutions who lose out because of this change, but maintained that students should remain the priority. 

“Students should think carefully about their next steps, speak to their parents, guardians and teachers and get in contact with their preferred university to advise on their options. Universities will do all they can to support students through this.”

The move brings England in line with the other UK countries, who had already announced their intention to use centre assessed grades (CAGs) to determine students’ final results. 

Institutions such as the University of Liverpool have announced their intention to offer eligible students they are unable to accommodate this year deferred places, starting in 2021. 

In a statement they confirmed that any applicant who chose Liverpool as their first choice, and who now meets or exceeds the terms of their offer, will be offered a place, but that they would not be able to place every student on a course for September 2020.

The government has been deeply criticised for their handling of the situation, which has thrown both students and university admissions into chaos. 

But the Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said that they were working “closely” with universities to build capacity for students.  

“We expect universities to be flexible. We expect them to go above and beyond to be able to honour those commitments … That’s why we’ve lifted the student number caps in order for universities to be able to expand and put extra capacity into the system.”

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Nicole Wootton-Cane
Written By
Nicole Wootton-Cane

Nicole lives in Manchester and is a Content Writer and Editor at Edvoy and journalist.


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