A-level results 2020: What's next for university students

The Government has been forced into a U-turn on how A-levels and GCSEs in England are graded, abandoning computer-based modelling in favour of teacher-assessed grades.

After days of protest, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said he was ‘incredibly sorry for the distress’ after students criticised the system as unfair and classist.

Now thousands of pupils are expected to see an increase in their grades after teacher-assessed results, which are generally higher, are reinstated.

The fiasco has created a nightmare for universities that initially sent out offers based on computer-calculated grades and are now having to find room for thousands more.

Here’s what that means for students.

Will pupils now get their first choice of university?

The U-turn in England – combined with the same change in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – means there are a significant number of students competing for a limited number of places.

Many students who received a downgraded result and relied on their ‘insurance’ option will now be seeking to be admitted to their first choice of university.

But students face an uphill battle as universities warn not every pupil will get their first place.

Even if they meet entry requirements, universities said they may be denied because of limited resources and space, particularly given new social distancing requirements.

Popular courses such as law are already full, despite there being 135,000 potential students – with many qualified for their first choice, Mail Online reported.

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) did not offer a guarantee that youngsters would get a place at their first choice destination.


Can an offer be rescinded?

Once a university makes an unconditional offer it is contractually binding and the institution is required to honour its commitments, unless the course is cancelled.

However, a conditional offer means the student still needs to meet the requirements, usually exam results, and may be withdrawn, according to UCAS.

A head of admissions at one university told The Times withdrawing offers for successful applicants was ‘unthinkable’.

He admitted he had ‘no idea’ how to handle the surge of thousands of applicants who would be able to claim a position.

Can universities cope with the surge?

Universities warned the U-turn means they face significant demand for their services and they have appealed to the Government to provide ‘urgent clarification’ on how they are expected to cope.

They sounded alarm over a lack of capacity, staffing, accommodation and facilities if numbers increase.



The Russell Group of leading universities said they had already accepted thousands of students who narrowly missed out on their grades and could not stretch resources to meet the needs of everyone.

Chief executive Dr Tim Bradshaw said: ‘There are limits to what can be done by the university sector alone to address that uncertainty without stretching resources to the point that it undermines the experience for all, not to mention ensuring students and staff are kept safe as we follow the steps needed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.’

Universities UK chief executive Alistair Jarvis said universities were being as flexible as possible but there were limits.

He said: ‘Today’s policy change will mean that more students will have the grades that match the offer of their first-choice university.’

What does the Government say?

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson called on universities to be as flexible as possible in accommodating the first choice of students.

The Government last night lifted a temporary cap that put limits on the top universities expanding their numbers at the expense of less popular institutions.

Mr Williamson said: ‘We expect universities to be flexible and to go above and beyond to be able to honour those commitments… that’s why today we’ve lifted student numbers caps in order for universities to be able to expand put extra capacity into the system.’ 

Universities have urged the Government how else they are expected to cope with the surge but no plan has been forthcoming.

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