Universities minister Michelle Donelan has asked universities to extend the current moratorium on offering unconditional offers to students. The moratorium was due to end on Monday, but will now last until 20 April.
In a letter to higher education providers, she said Ofqual’s guidance to A-level examination centres – which was published today and outlines how GCSE and A-level grade calculations by schools and colleges would be checked using a rank order of students – provided clarity about how this year’s grades will be calculated.
This, the minister said, should provide reassurance that “as in any other year, this year’s results will be a robust reflection of students’ abilities and achievements to date”.
She added: “I am clear that these grades will be equal in status to those in previous years.”
However, Ms Donelan said she recognised that a number of students will also be studying a range of other vocational and technical qualifications in order to progress to university.
“It is imperative students and the higher education sector have information as soon as possible about assessment of these qualifications so they can plan accordingly," she wrote. “We are continuing rapid work with Ofqual to agree appropriate approaches for this range of qualifications and to ensure students are not disadvantaged.”
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The shared priority of the government and HE providers now had to be to provide reassurance to students, Ms Donelan said, as these were likely to be feeling unsettled and anxious during this time. It was also crucial to ensure the stabilisation of the higher education admissions system.
In support of the latter, the moratorium on changing offers already made to students had been introduced, and this was done to call a halt “to a potentially dangerous scramble by some providers to secure the recruitment of students by using recruitment practices that put at risk students’ ability to make informed choices”.
Her main concern now was to move to a stable system that prioritised the best interests of students, said the minister. To allow time for this and to ensure that teachers were able to support students in making decisions about their future paths, she called for an extension to the moratorium until 20 April.
HE providers could, however, make unconditional offers to international and domestic students who have already achieved the requisite qualifications from Monday, she said.
While providers should continue to make conditional offers as usual, any new conditional offers made to applicants that were below the normal offer for the course “must be in the best interests of the student and not an unconditional offer by the back door”.
Ms Donelan said: "I know many students will be anxious at this unprecedented time and worried about what it means for their future.
“My top priorities are to both reassure students and protect our world-leading higher education sector. That is why I am calling for an extension to the pause on changes to university offers, and I urge universities to adhere to this so we ensure long term stability across the admissions system.
"We will continue to work closely with the sector to ensure every effort is made to limit the impact of Covid-19 on students and providers."
Office for Students chief executive Nicola Dandridge also wrote to all universities and colleges to reinforce the extended moratorium.
Ms Dandridge said: "There is...no reason for universities to make unconditional offers or change existing offers for applicants awaiting their A-level results where they would normally make admissions decisions based on these results.
"We recognise that universities and colleges will be concerned about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on their recruitment for the next academic year. But it would be wholly inappropriate to respond to this uncertainty by acting in ways that may put pressure on students’ decision making in what is also a very worrying time for them.
"It is reassuring that universities and colleges have adhered to the existing moratorium on unconditional offers, and I expect them to continue to do so during this extension."