Top UK universities willing to expand student numbers again

Russell Group universities have been willing to expand their academic numbers this year to ensure applicants from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are not prevented from gaining a place.

The 24 universities have written a letter aiming to reassure students they won’t be penalised from attending university because of the cancellation of exams.

The letter from Dr Tim Bradshaw stated: “We know that many students in their final years of schooling will be worried about the impact of measures to stop the spread of Covid-19 on their education and future opportunities, including school closures and the cancelling of exams.”

The letter also stated that “Russell Group universities will be as fair and flexible as possible to ensure they are not disadvantaged in their applications” and that applicants last year included “those from the most underrepresented areas and groups and reflects our members’ determination to ensure applicants were not unfairly affected by the challenging circumstances around those assessments”.

The Russell Group universities also stated that adequate “counselling, welfare advice and specialist study skills” would be available to those who needed them.

The University of Cambridge specifically has announced students from disadvantaged backgrounds who fail to meet the high entry requirements will be able to study at the institution, offering a free foundation year for a maximum of 50 students who miss out on the top grades.

Russell Group universities will be as fair and flexible as possible to ensure they are not disadvantaged in their applications

– letter from Dr Tim Bradshaw

Roughly 171,470 students attended the top academic institutions last year, an increase of 12% from 152,990 in 2019, according to UCAS.

This increase can be explained through generous teacher-assessed grades, meaning more young people met their targets, alongside some Oxford colleges accepting all their offer holders in the UK.

The assessment watchdog Ofqual is to consult on how the teacher-assessment method of awarding grades will be undertaken, with a senior figure in the exam industry suggesting “normal” admissions procedures would lead to a “fair number of people who won’t be on the right track”.

Students make have to sit some tests in the classroom to determine their final grades, with exam boards looking at whether they could produce tests for teachers to use.

This means England could follow Wales in having an “assessment window” to sit the tests, with a number of different tests distributed to ensure cheating couldn’t take place.


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