Ben HaywardAugust 13th
2020

A number of the UK’s most prestigious universities have been accused of failing to show the flexibility demanded by ministers, as students struggle to secure places with lower A-level grades than expected.

With nearly 40% of students having their results downgraded many young people have struggled to gain places at their chosen universities, despite pleas from the university minister, Michelle Donelan, that institutes be as flexible as possible. 

Although more students were accepted on to UK degree courses this year - 415,600, up 1.6% on the same point last year - there has been frustration among students bewildered by downgrades.

Many universities have heeded pleas to be as accommodating as possible, however school and college leaders have said that some of the more competitive institutions have showed much less leniency.

Shaz Rafiq, 17, a student at Solihull sixth-form college, was predicted ABB but was only awarded CEE and as a result has lost her place to study politics and international relations at Nottingham, reports the Guardian. “They just rejected me straight away,” said Shafiq. 

Helen Hopper, from Tunbridge Wells in Kent, said: “Sad day for us – my daughter was offered a place to read English at Oxford. Quite an achievement for a mixed-heritage person at state school. Far from being lenient, she dropped one grade in history and Oxford declined her. She was predicted an A and her coursework is A* in that subject.”

The principal of Holy Cross College in Bury, Dr Daveth Frost, reported varying responses from different universities, with one student who had applied to study medicine holding an offer of AAA, ending up with AAB and being rejected, while another held a contextual offer of ABB to study medicine at Leeds University, was awarded BBB and was accepted.

“In both cases they would most certainly have got much higher grades in exams,” said Frost.

“Different universities are behaving in different ways. Some are being incredibly understanding. We had a student accepted for Oxford. She got a B in one subject – which she’s never done – but all her mocks were A*. She rang up Oxford and they said ‘OK we will take you’. Others I don’t think have grasped how serious the anomalies are.”

An Oxford University spokesman said: “We intend to take every student who meets their offer grades as well as those where we consider there are mitigating circumstances for them missing their grade.

“As we do every year when grades are re-marked, some students may be offered a deferred place. Once we reach our maximum intake of undergraduates in 2020, we will have to defer entry to 2021 for any additional candidates who appeal successfully and whose place is then confirmed.”

Bill Watkin, the chief executive of the Sixth Form College Association, said: “This is a time for flexibility and sensitivity. It will be disappointing if universities fail to demonstrate these two qualities.

“There is evidence already that some universities have not shown the flexibility asked of them by the government. Some universities have already filled their places and will not wait for the outcomes of appeals, saying that even if students get the necessary grades after an appeal, they will have to defer their place until next year.”

Prof Sir Anton Muscatelli, the chair of the Russell Group, said: “It is a unique and unprecedented results season and our universities are being as flexible as possible with admissions. 

“They are taking a range of factors into account to ensure no students, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, are unfairly affected and can benefit from the world-class higher education offered by Russell Group universities.”

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