Universities have been asked to refrain from changing the offers made to prospective students following the cancellation of this summer's exam series.
Universities minister Michelle Donelan has said any changes – such as converting conditional offers to unconditional offers or changing entry requirements – should not be made for the next two weeks.
According to the government, a small number of universities changed a significant proportion of their offers to undergraduate students from conditional to unconditional after this summer's exams, including A levels, BTECs and other level 3 qualifications, were cancelled.
This, they hoped, would secure applicants' attendance for the 2020-21 academic year.
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However, according to the government, this practice risks destabilising the admissions system and increasing financial uncertainty and volatility for all institutions at a time when universities are already facing significant pressures.
Ms Donelan said: “We are facing unprecedented circumstances as a country, but it is essential that we create a period of stability for both students and universities. As universities seek to secure attendance for the next academic year, I would ask them to refrain from changing existing offers to unconditional offers as it risks destabilising the entire admissions systems.
“We must also look out for students, too, who in these uncertain times may be feeling anxious about their futures. I want to reassure students that we will provide them with the grades they need. No student should feel pressured into making a quick decision which may end up not being in their best interest.
“I am asking for a two-week pause while we work with the sector over this period on admissions arrangements.”
Office for Students chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: "It would be quite wrong for any university or college to respond to the coronavirus crisis by making unconditional offers that may undermine the sustainability of the university system and increase the financial pressure on other providers.
“Many universities and colleges have been responding to the enormous challenges of coronavirus with innovation and ingenuity. But it is critical that every university and college puts the student’s interest first in these difficult times.
“So, I want to make it very clear to any university or college – and its leaders and governors – that if any university or college adjusts any offer to students, or makes any unconditional offers, during this two-week moratorium we will use any powers available to us to prevent such offer-making on the grounds that it is damaging to students and not in their interests.”
Association of Colleges chief executive David Hughes said: “I’m pleased to see this announcement to suspend changing offers to unconditional. It may look like it is in the interests of the individuals involved to have certainty, but it simply heightens the concern of the majority of people who still have a conditional offer. It may also have an unequal impact on universities and colleges who could lose students as a result.
"I am sure that we all need to work together across sectors, across what has been a highly competitive post-18 education system and in the interests of all students and the colleges and universities, which are vital now and will be even more crucial when we start to get beyond this crisis.”