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After the exams U-turn, will unis have enough places?

18 August 2020

3:44 AM

18 August 2020

3:44 AM

So now that A-Levels will be judged on teacher-assessed grades (or centre assessed grades) where does that leave us? At the last count, about 55,000 students were given undergraduate places at either their second choice (insurance) or clearing. So that’s 55,000 students whose place at university might be changed now that teacher-assessed grades are being used. There were a further 80,000 students ‘holding offers’ – in other words, where the university or the student has yet to confirm the place, perhaps because they were waiting for the appeals process. When universities make an offer that is ‘conditional’ on their grade achievement, they are contractually obliged to accept those students who meet the conditions.

But by now, some universities will have used the clearing system to fill vacant places with students who missed their grades the first time and might still have missed them under today’s revisions. This means that universities might now struggle to honour their offers to those who have just been upgraded – initially because of the cap on recruitment but now, in some cases, due to physical capacity too. There is a limit to how fast they can expand in just a few weeks. Universities are also planning for ‘Covid-secure campuses’ which further constrains their capacity.


All of this helps explain why the government lifted the current cap on university recruitment: it will allow them to be be as flexible as possible. But even this won’t create enough spaces to handle the extra students who have just had their results upgraded. From a university admissions point of view, all of this is likely to cause chaos. Universities will undoubtedly do their utmost to cope with this extraordinary situation and to support students who’ve also been on a rollercoaster of uncertainty. But the ride has not ended yet.

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