Students face scramble for university places after A-level grading changes


Universities hope to help as many students as possible get onto degree courses after the Government’s U-turn over A-level grades.

Teenagers who had originally been downgraded in their A-levels due to a controversial algorithm can now claim their teacher-assessed grades instead.

But the move has left universities facing huge challenges as many had already turned away students who didn’t meet the grades needed on results day.

In the meantime, they have recruited other students through the clearing system.

Keele University said, in a ‘small number’ of cases, students who’ve now met their conditional offers would have to defer for a year before starting their degree.

Courses affected include medicine and veterinary medicine, which have strictly limited numbers and involve clinical placements.

But deputy vice-chancellor Mark Ormerod said: “We are pleased to confirm that Keele University will guarantee places based on the new centre assessment grades for the vast majority of programmes.”

Universities were facing a cap on how many students they could recruit in 2020/21. Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced this policy will be scrapped, paving the way for them to accept more students at the last minute.

At Staffordshire University, staff have welcomed the change of heart over A-level grades.

Vice-chancellor Liz Barnes

Vice-chancellor Liz Barnes said: “It is vital that grades reflect the hard work and commitment demonstrated by young people throughout this immensely challenging period.”

The university had already decided to use teacher-assessed grades if applicants had done worse than expected in their A-levels.

Alyssa Phillips, director of student recruitment and admissions, stressed they were keen to look beyond grades at the ‘whole’ student and their potential.

Many people contacting Staffordshire University’s clearing hub have also come from diverse backgrounds and have other types of qualifications. They include adults looking to retrain for new careers.

“Staff have been incredibly busy during clearing,” added Alyssa. “We have still got places available on a range of courses.”

All offers made through clearing will still stand. But students who have now met the grades they needed for their original university place can ask them to honour it.

This will also apply to students who accepted their insurance offers after missing out on their top-choice university.

But some elite universities have warned they simply won’t be able to find space for every student who has met their conditional offer. It may mean waiting a year to start a degree course or opting for an alternative subject through clearing.

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, which represents 24 of the UK’s top universities, said they were trying to be as ‘flexible as possible’.

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Before the A-level grading U-turn, they had already offered places to people who had narrowly missed their grades and had agreed to hold many places open for those who were appealing.

Dr Bradshaw added: “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.”





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