Up to 10% of British students may defer their university places, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) has said.
Prospective students’ growing fears of “missing out” on the university experience is the main reason for this. Students have until 18 June to decide whether or not they accept a place for this autumn.
In a worst-case scenario, UCAS found that up to 46,000 fewer students could start their studies in Autumn 2020, compared to Autumn 2019.
One-fifth of students stated that “missing out on the experience” was their most significant concern about taking up their studies this year.
Recent UCAS data showed that 31,380 applicants have deferred entry so far, a 2% increase in deferrals from the same time in 2019.
A study by Leicester University found that over 40% of students are considering changing their study plans because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Several universities have released statements saying that coronavirus is not a valid reason to defer by a year.
Sander Kristel, chief operations officer of UCAS said: “It is natural that applicants’ feelings towards starting courses as planned in the autumn have changed over time, taking a more pessimistic turn in recent weeks.
There are still three months or more until doors were due to open and as lockdown continues to ease, we are all hoping (safety permitting) that campuses will be able to welcome students in some form
– Sander Kristel
“There are still three months or more until doors were due to open and as lockdown continues to ease, we are all hoping (safety permitting) that campuses will be able to welcome students in some form.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson echoed this sentiment, stating that university applicants “should not feel they need to defer, unless they wish to”.
He added: “Universities must be clear about how courses will be delivered in the next academic year, and I hope this will reassure the thousands of students who are ready to take that next exciting step this autumn.”
The potential for a high deferral rate is causing universities to worry about their finances. One upper level estimate claimed they could face a £760 million loss in funding.
The National Union of Students (NUS) criticised universities for providing a lack of clear planning for the upcoming year. NUS President Zamzam Ibrahim said: “Students need clarity as to what they can expect from the next academic year in order for them to make informed choices.”
The University and College Union general-secretary, Jo Grady, said there had not been enough communication about how universities plan to proceed with the next academic year. She felt that the lack of clear policies for how tuition and university life would return in the next academic year was playing into students’ fears.
Ms Grady also said: “The current wait and see approach from ministers is exacerbating the crisis for prospective students and putting tens of thousands of jobs at universities and in the wider economy at risk.”
UCAS’ analysis of deferral rates also found that some students who had been planning to defer may no longer, due to their planned gap year not being possible because of wider COVID-19 related changes.