Ben Hayward August 18th

Durham University is offering a payout in an effort to persuade potential students to defer their studies until next year.

As fears grow among universities about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn on university intakes, Durham is offering bursaries to students to make the prospect of waiting a year more tempting, reports the Guardian. 

The prestigious university has promised that it will honour any offers that are successfully met but has said it has no choice but to make some students defer entry due to capacity issues.

An email sent out to students said those who deferred would be guaranteed college accommodation - which is always in high demand at Durham - and ‘will be provided with a bursary by Durham University to help with their transition to university life, although the university was unable to say how much the bursary would be.

Other universities have also suggested that they will be forced to ask some students to defer if they are to honour all offers following the somewhat chaotic handling of A-level exam grading this year. 

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has branded the government’s handling of the crisis ‘a clear fail’ saying the ‘entirely avoidable’ exams fiasco would hit higher education for years to come.

In a briefing note, the IFS said the government’s U-turn on Monday, which saw the scrapping of the controversial algorithm that had been responsible for downgrading millions of students’ exam results, instead reinstating teachers’ ‘predicted grades’, had left universities ‘in the lurch’.

As a result, thousands of students who are now qualified to study at some of the country’s top universities are being told that if they want to attend they will have to defer as there are insufficient places to go around.

The IFS also warned that although top universities are experiencing increased demand, institutions lower down the rankings risk losing a large proportion of their intake, which could have dire consequences for their finances.

The IFS said: “These problems were entirely avoidable. A-level results should never have been released before being subject to scrutiny beyond Ofqual. The government should not have had to rely on shocked 18-year-olds on results day to realise there was a problem.

“Allocating A-level grades to students who did not sit exams was never going to be easy. But the government’s solution is a clear fail. This will have repercussions for universities and students, now and in the coming years.”

IFS associate director Jack Britton added: “Had the government been more transparent about their proposed mechanism for assigning grades, all this could have been avoided.”

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