@HEPI_news poll: University applicants need “support and safety nets”

University applicants need “support and safety nets” to ensure they are not further disadvantaged by the coronavirus crisis, said the University and College Union (UCU) today (Tuesday).

The union was responding to a poll from the Higher Education Policy Institute that found almost a third of applicants feel less confident they will get into their chosen university since the coronavirus pandemic.

It also revealed that under half of applicants have confidence that their predicted grades are an accurate reflection of the grades they would have received in this summer’s exams.

UCU general secretary, Jo Grady, said:

‘University applicants are already suffering from a turbulent end to their current stage of education and need support as they move on to university. It is not business as usual at the moment and it is unlikely that everything will have returned to normal by the start of the new academic year.

‘We need to provide support and safety nets so students are not disadvantaged by the coronavirus crisis. We want guarantees from universities that students who decide to appeal their results or resit exams can hold their university place while they go through that process.

‘No student should be put off starting at university because they worry they do not have the tools or resources required to cope with online learning. There needs to be funding available for students who need it to purchase things like computers and other educational tools.’

The Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI) has worked with YouthSight on a poll of over 1,000 full-time undergraduate students and over 500 applicants to higher education to see how the Covid-19 pandemic is affecting them.

The results show:

  • the overwhelming majority of students think the messaging from their university on Coronavirus has been clear;
  • more students want their assessments to continue online than want them to be cancelled;
  • around half of students are content with the online teaching they are now receiving;
  • while over half of students have moved away from their term-time accommodation, a considerable proportion have not;
  • around half of applicants feel the information they are receiving on the crisis from their chosen universities is good;
  • nearly eight in every 10 applicants do not expect to change their first-choice institution as a result of the crisis; and
  • under half of applicants have confidence that their predicted grades are an accurate reflection of the grades they would have received in this summer’s exams.

Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, said:

These results show universities are supporting students and applicants well through these challenging times. Despite having to scale up online provision very quickly, few students are dissatisfied with the offering from their institution. Both applicants and students feel they have had clear information around the pandemic.

On admissions, it is clear applicants need greater certainty about what will happen to their university places. It is essential this group, who have already lost out on the end of their school experience, are not disadvantaged from getting into the university of their choice. The data shows this is a concern for a significant minority of applicants. 

Despite all the uncertainty, much remains the same. Two-thirds of students still want the opportunity to complete their assessments from afar. The majority of applicants still intend to go to the same university as before the crisis. What’s more, many students are still living in their term-time residence, meaning they may be reliant on the support of their university and accommodation providers.


A significant majority of students (70%) feel the messaging from their higher education institution on Coronavirus has been either ‘clear’ or ‘very clear’. Only around one-sixth (18%) feel it has been either ‘quite unclear’ or ‘very unclear’ while 13% feel it has been neither clear nor unclear.

Only around one-third of students (36%) think the current crisis should lead to their assessments for the rest of the year being cancelled. More, but still under half (42%), expect universities to continue assessments online and 17% would prefer for the assessments to be postponed until after the crisis. 

A greater proportion of first year students (44%) thought assessments should be cancelled, compared to second year students (32%) or students in their third year (31%).  

The very small group (5%) who selected ‘Other’ said they would prefer for exams to be replaced by essays or for a ‘safety net’ to be put in place, where students’ grades cannot be negatively impacted by any on-going assessments. 

Just under half of students (49%) are satisfied with the online learning that has replaced their face-to-face teaching, compared to 23% of students who are dissatisfied. Another 29% feel neither satisfied nor unsatisfied. 

The majority (55%) of students are living away from their normal term-time residence as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. However, another 45% of respondents said they are still living in their term-time residence.


The majority of applicants surveyed (53%) feel the messaging they have received on Coronavirus from their prospective universities has been clear. Only 28% feel the messaging has been unclear and 18% say it has been neither clear nor unclear. 

It is clear that the crisis has had an impact on the confidence of applicants that they will get into their chosen university. Almost a third (29%) feel less confident that they will get a place at their chosen university, compared to 20% who feel more confident. Just under half (46%) feel equally confident and 5% are unsure. 

For the majority (79%) of applicants, the pandemic has not had any impact on which university will be their first choice. Only 7% plan to change their first-choice university and another 14% are undecided.

Predicted grades are expected to play a more significant part in this cohort’s access to higher education, as they could form part of the grade they are awarded. Just under half of applicants (46%) expect their predicted grades to reflect their final grade, whereas 27% think their predicted grades are worse than their final grades would have been. A small proportion (13%) hold better predicted grades than they expected to achieve in their final exams and 14% are unsure.

Methodology: Wave 8 of the HEPI/YouthSight Monitor was answered by 1,039 full-time undergraduate students and 506 UK university applicants and undertaken between the 27th March – 1st April 2020. Weights have been used to ensure the sample is representative by age, gender, school type and university type.

The margin of error is + / - 4% for applicants and + / - 3% for students. This is calculated at a 95% confidence level for both groups. 

Respondents received a £1.50 Bonus Bond gift voucher for answering these questions and others on a different topic.

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