Universities Minister Michelle Donelan

Please see attached a letter from the Universities Minister @MichelleDonelan to the #HE sector, asking to extend the current moratorium (due to expire on Monday 6 April) on offering unconditional offers to students. The moratorium will now last until the 20 April. 

This decision has been made in order to offer maximum security to the admissions process, higher education providers and students.

Minister for Universities, Michelle 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."

Higher education regulator urges fairness for students in admissions

Office for Students (OfS) chief executive Nicola Dandridge has written to all universities and colleges reinforcing the extended moratorium on unconditional offers or changing existing offers announced by the Universities Minister Michelle Donelan. The moratorium lasts until Monday 20 April.

The OfS is working with the Department for Education, UCAS and others to ensure the full return to normal operations following the end of the moratorium period. Alongside a wider package of measures to stabilise admissions, the OfS is exploring the use of regulatory powers to take enforcement action against universities and colleges not acting in the best interests of students or undermining the stability and integrity of the higher education sector. This includes considering options for enforcement during the moratorium period.

nicola dandridge100x100Nicola Dandridge, Chief Executive, Office for Students (OfS) said:

"The English higher education system, along with the rest of the country, is facing extraordinary circumstances. This means we need to look urgently at how we can provide clarity for students and universities around admissions, safeguard the stability and integrity of the higher education sector and ensure we can act swiftly where necessary.

"Ofqual has announced details of how A level qualifications will be awarded this year. Its guidance is clear that this year’s grades will have equal status to the grades awarded in other years and should be treated in this way by universities.

"There is therefore 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."

Letter to providers in full

Admissions moratorium

I am pleased to be able to confirm that Ofqual has today issued guidance to A level examination centres, which provides clarity about how this year’s grades will be calculated. This guidance explains what schools and colleges need to do in arriving at judgements on students’ performance and how these will be standardised to make sure that grades are fair using a model being developed with Ofqual.

This 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. I am clear that these grades will be equal in status to those in previous years. A link to the Ofqual guidance can be found here.

We recognise 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. We are continuing rapid work with Ofqual to agree appropriate approaches for this range of qualifications and to ensure students are not disadvantaged. We will provide further information as soon as possible.

Our shared priority must now be to provide reassurance to students, who are likely to be feeling unsettled and anxious during this time, and to ensure the stabilisation of the higher education admissions system, which is in all our interests.

On the first, I am working with partner organisations to communicate with students today, to reassure them that the admissions process, including Clearing, will run this summer with their interests at heart, with minimum disruption, and encouraging them to seek guidance on their decisions about what and where to study, including from their teachers. Shortly, we will also be providing clarity on the scheduling of A level results.

On the second – stabilising the admissions system – we have already taken steps to bring about stability by calling for a moratorium on changing offers already made to prospective students (including converting conditional offers into unconditional ones or changing entry requirements). This was done in order 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. I welcome the response from the sector on the moratorium.

My main concern now is that we move to a stable system that prioritises the best interests of students. I am working very closely with UCAS, the Office for Students and sector representatives to ensure that this happens. In order to allow time for this, and, most importantly, ensure that teachers are able to support students in making decisions about their future paths, we have decided to call for an extension of the moratorium until 20th April.

I think, however, it is reasonable that providers should, from Monday 6 April, be allowed to make unconditional offers to students in the following very limited circumstances:

International and domestic students who have already achieved the requisite qualifications, for example mature students.

Providers should continue to make conditional offers as usual. However, any new conditional offers made to applicants that are 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

I welcome the steps the Office for Students is taking in exploring what powers it could use should providers revert to irresponsible offer-making. I would also ask that you ensure that all communications regarding offers to applicants are made only through the UCAS system in accordance with UCAS’s terms of service with you. This is a matter that we and the Office for Students will be monitoring closely. The Government continues to play close attention to the actions of all providers within the admission system, and will not hesitate to act to protect the interests of students.

I will say more in the next two weeks on further plans, before the moratorium ends. I appreciate how hard this period is for universities and know the pressures you are under. I am trying to speak to many of you as possible. If you have any concerns, please do not hesitate to contact my office and I will speak to you directly.

Michelle Donelan, Minister for Universities

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