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Calls for Government to support universities after ‘late’ U-turn on A-levels

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said temporary cap on the number of places that universities can offer to students has been lifted.

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Students from Codsall Community High School march to the constituency office of their local MP Gavin Williamson, who is also the Education Secretary, as a protest over the continuing issues of last week’s A level results (Jacob King/PA)

Students from Codsall Community High School march to the constituency office of their local MP Gavin Williamson, who is also the Education Secretary, as a protest over the continuing issues of last week’s A level results (Jacob King/PA)

Students from Codsall Community High School march to the constituency office of their local MP Gavin Williamson, who is also the Education Secretary, as a protest over the continuing issues of last week’s A level results (Jacob King/PA)

The Government must “step up” and support universities now facing further challenges created by its U-turn on the way A-level results are awarded, a leading education body has said.

Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis has called for “urgent clarification” from the Government and advice on a number of “crucial issues” following its policy change on Monday.

He warned that while 70% of students were placed with their first-choice institution, those who are not should “think carefully about their next steps” and seek advice from their preferred university.

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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

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Education Secretary Gavin Williamson (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

It comes as the Government announced it will allow for A-level results to be based on teachers’ predicted grades for their students, rather than an algorithm aimed at standardising results.

Mr Jarvis said: “Today’s policy change will mean that 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.

“Universities will do everything they can to work through these issues in the days ahead.

“The Government will need to step up and support universities through the challenges created by this late policy change. We are seeking urgent clarification and advice from Government on a number of crucial issues.”

Dr Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading universities, said support was needed to help with expected increases in student numbers.

He said: “We know the changing situation is creating uncertainty for students and universities.

“However, there are limits to what can be done by the university sector alone to address that uncertainty without stretching resources to the point that it undermines the experience for all, not to mention ensuring students and staff are kept safe as we follow the steps needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There are also practical constraints on capacity for programmes that depend on specialist facilities or placements.”

We call on the Government not to fine universities who keep their promise to studentsUniversity College London spokeswoman

Universities in England had only been allowed to recruit 5% more UK students than their targets this year to prevent institutions from over-recruiting to make up for lost revenue as a result of Covid-19.

However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said on Monday that the cap would be lifted.

Addressing concerns about potential capacity problems, he told reporters: “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.

“We expect universities to be flexible. We expect them to go above and beyond to be able to honour those commitments, but we also recognise you know that’s why today we’ve lifted the student number caps in order for universities to be able to expand and put extra capacity into the system.”

In all, almost 40% of all A-level grades were downgraded after exams regulator Ofqual used an algorithm based on schools’ previous results.

Critics have complained the algorithm to make the adjustments had penalised pupils in schools in more disadvantaged areas, while benefiting those in private schools.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) said 193,420 of 18-year-old main scheme applicants across the UK were placed with their first-choice university, which is higher than at the same point last year.

Students who have not got into their first-choice institution should seek advice from their parents or teachers before contacting the university, a Ucas spokesman said.

“Once your university has your ‘centre assessed grades’ via exam bodies, they can make a decision as to whether there is a place at your preferred choice,” the spokesman added.

University College London (UCL) said students who do not have a place confirmed, but have met its offer to study medicine based on teacher-assessed grades, will be “guaranteed” a deferred place next year.

A spokeswoman said the university was also working with agencies to help those students secure places this year.

PA