Latest letter from Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, to students 17 June 2020
I hope that you remain safe and well during these trying times. The health and wellbeing of all students – both prospective students and those already enrolled – remains a top priority for the government and for me personally.
I promised to keep you informed about what was happening in higher education as we gradually relax the lockdown restrictions. We are looking forward to providers reopening campuses for students and staff.
I understand that this an incredibly difficult time for you, and you have important decisions to take now that will affect your future careers and the rest of your lives. Those considering university this year are facing different choices from those taken by students in previous years as a result of the restrictions forced on us by the coronavirus. Therefore, I would urge you to think carefully about all your options and make informed decisions that best serve your futures. I am encouraging universities to be clear to prospective students about how courses will be delivered in the coming year as soon as they possibly can and well before the deadlines for students to make their decisions.
For many of you, the upcoming UCAS deadline on 18 June, where you make decisions on your firm and insurance choices, marks an important step on your journey to higher education. Your decision is ultimately up to you, but please remember that if you don’t make a decision by this point, your offers will be automatically declined.
Making a decision now will put you in the best possible place ahead of receiving your results and when UCAS Clearing starts. Clearing is not just for people who haven’t gained a place, and offers a range of opportunities should you wish to explore them. UCAS will be providing you with more information in the coming weeks to prepare you for results day and all the choices you have available.
Attending university can provide great benefits and open doors to all sorts of opportunities. Therefore, I want to reassure you that there will be lots of great opportunities to study from this Autumn onwards. Our universities and colleges are rightly renowned for their world-class expertise and knowledge and all of this will still be on offer to you.
The government has been working with the higher education sector to make sure all reasonable efforts are being made to enable students to start and continue their studies. Since lockdown began, I have seen some fantastic and innovative examples of high-quality online learning being delivered by providers across the country. I am encouraging providers to think outside of the box and to be as innovative as possible.
I expect that providers will be open and operating in the autumn term, with a blend of online teaching and face-to-face tuition that they consider appropriate, as long as they follow public health guidance that minimises the risk to the health and safety of students and staff. The government cannot tell providers how to deliver their courses and each provider will therefore make their own judgement of what is best for them and their students, as well as ensuring that their teaching is of a high quality. However, to help providers make informed decisions about providing education during this pandemic, we have published guidance on what they should consider when reopening campuses and buildings, while taking account of public health guidelines.
Student wellbeing is at the heart of our HE experience and all our providers are considering the need to protect student welfare as a priority. Alongside our guidance on reopening campuses and buildings, Universities UK has published a complementary set of principles that will guide universities and other providers in drawing up detailed plans to reopen campuses. I welcome these principles, which put the health and wellbeing of students and staff at the forefront of considerations during the current pandemic. These principles include:
- having sufficient flexibility to deliver a high-quality experience and support students to achieve their learning outcomes in a safe manner (principle 3);
- regularly reviewing the welfare and mental health needs of students and staff (principle 4);
- engaging with students and staff on how to emerge from lockdown (principle 8).
However, it is important to be realistic about what your student experience might look like next year. We are encouraging HE providers to do all they can to open up their facilities, whilst respecting social distancing but, of course, safety must come first. This means there may be some aspects of the academic and student experience that look a little less conventional as next year begins, but a blend of online and face to face learning does not mean inferior and I am confident that HE remains a fantastic and transformative experience. I would encourage you to engage with your provider if you have any questions about what they will offer and how they will deliver it next year.
Please remember that, if you have concerns, there is a complaints process that you can use. First, you should raise any concerns with your provider. If those concerns remain unresolved, and if you are studying at a provider in England or Wales, you can ask the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education to consider your complaint.
I know that many students left their belongings behind in student accommodation when the coronavirus pandemic took hold and are now anxious to collect them again. We have published guidance to explain how you can do this so that you minimise the risk to yourselves and other people.
Many international students are likely to have questions about the new public health measures which have been introduced at the UK border. I would encourage you to read the new guidance on these measures so you can familiarise yourself with what you will be expected to do when you land. I can reassure you that the UK HE sector is considering these new measures carefully and is working quickly to ensure appropriate arrangements are in place to support you for the autumn term. I would encourage you to contact your current or chosen university if you have any questions.
I also urge students, before they sign an accommodation contract, to check that it provides for how the impact of coronavirus may affect the operation of the contract, in line with consumer law. Information published by the Competition and Markets Authority gives guidance on the pandemic’s effects on consumer contracts.
Student loan applications
There is still time to apply for your student finance if you are a new or returning student and I would encourage you to submit your application to the Student Loans Company as soon as possible. This is the best way to ensure your funding is in place for the start of the new term and that you are paid on time. Full details of how to apply for student finance are available on the Student Loans Company website.
Many of you will have applied for a maintenance loan for the coming academic year, 2020/21, and some of your families will have seen their income reduced in recent times. We want to make sure all students receive the right amount of student support to complete their studies. If you have been awarded the maximum maintenance loan, you do not need to do anything, as you will receive the maximum level of support as planned. If you have applied for support, and have been awarded a lower amount than the maximum, and believe your household income for the current tax year (2020-21) will drop by at least 15% compared to the household income you provided when you were initially assessed, Student Finance England (SFE) may be able to help. Information on entitlement and how to apply can be found online. Like many other organisations, SFE is very busy at the moment, so it is really important to read the guidance fully before making an application or phoning them.
Further advice from the Office for Students
The Office for Students (OfS), the regulator of higher education in England, is a good source of information on student issues. The OfS has recently published consumer protection guidance aimed at u, and also produces a monthly student newsletter. You can sign up to receive student-focused information at the OfS’s website or follow them on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or LinkedIn.
I would like to finish by saying that I want you all to have an experience of HE that is as valid and rewarding as that enjoyed by past students, even if part of that experience is going to be different in some respects as a result of the coronavirus and the need to protect your health and safety. We will work tirelessly with the sector to make sure that you have the best possible experience in these challenging times.
As ever, I am more than happy to hear from you if you have particular issues that you want to raise with me.
Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, update 4 May 2020
I understand the uncertainty that many of you who are planning to go to university will feel at the moment, due to the impact of coronavirus on all aspects of your lives. I wanted to write to you and address as many of these issues as I can.
The Government is working closely with universities to ensure prospective students can start and continue their studies. We want to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on your ability to progress to university and achieve your goals. This means ensuring that this year’s admissions cycle faces as little disruption as possible and Clearing goes ahead as normal, so you have every opportunity to make the decision that is right for you.
When I previously wrote, I told you we had asked universities to temporarily pause making changes to offers already made to prospective students: this ends today, Monday 4 May. The Government, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the Office for Students, and universities have been working together and today we have announced measures that will empower you to make more informed decisions about entry to higher education.
We have agreed with UCAS to bolster the Clearing process this year. Whether you have a conditional or unconditional offer, you will have the opportunity to change your choice once you have received your grades. This will be supported by a new service that can suggest alternative opportunities, based on your qualifications, your course interest, and other preferences, helping you filter the multitude of courses in a structured way.
In response to calls from universities, we have also temporarily limited the numbers of students each higher education provider can recruit, to ensure a fair, structured distribution across providers, and deter practices which might induce you to make a decision against your own interests. Providers will be able to recruit full-time, domestic students up to 5% above their forecasts in the next academic year, and the Government will also have the discretion to allocate an additional 10,000 places, with 5,000 ring-fenced for nursing, midwifery or allied health courses, to support the country’s vital public services.
I want to reassure you that, if you have accepted an offer, meet the conditions, and decide to take the place, nothing has changed.
On 16 April, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, announced that A level results day will remain unchanged (13 August). We also recently set out the approaches to other Level 3 qualifications (see assessment of vocational and technical qualifications), and more information will be provided in the coming days and weeks. I am also pleased that UCAS has moved its forthcoming decision deadline to 18 June. This means you will have more time to make important decisions about your future, if you need it.
I will continue to work to make sure there is a clear and supportive admissions system that allows you as prospective students to make the best choice for you.
Those of you planning to begin your studies away from home may well have concerns about the impact the coronavirus outbreak could have on your ability to move into your term-time accommodation next academic year.
I am pleased to tell you that a number of universities and private accommodation providers are already considering how these impacts could be managed in accommodation contracts for the 2020/21 academic year, to give you confidence to make your plans.
I welcome the actions of many university and private accommodation providers in waiving and reducing rents this summer, along with their efforts to support and care for their students through this difficult period. This gives me confidence in their ability to help us all navigate the unprecedented circumstances that make the future so hard to predict.
If you have already signed an accommodation contract for next year and, because of coronavirus, think it may no longer fit your requirements, you should talk directly to your housing provider. If you run into problems, you will be able to raise a complaint under one of the accommodation codes of practice, as long as your provider is a code member: The Student Accommodation Code, Unipol, and National Residential Landlords Association.
While I am confident that consumer protections are in place to help with your plans to move into halls or private housing next academic year, it is still important that you carefully read your accommodation contract before putting pen to paper.
Means Tested Maintenance Loans
Many of you will have applied for a Maintenance Loan for the coming academic year, 2020/21, and some of your families will have seen their income reduced in recent times. If you have been awarded the maximum Maintenance Loan, you do not need to do anything, as you will receive the maximum level of support as planned. If you have applied for support, and have been awarded a lower amount than the maximum, and believe your household income for the current tax year (2020/21) will drop by at least 15% compared to the household income you provided when you were initially assessed, Student Finance England may be able to help. Further guidance on eligibility and how to apply is available online.
Mental health support
I understand some of you may be feeling uncertain and anxious, and it is vital that you can access the mental health support you need. I have told higher education providers that this should be a priority at this time, and many are strengthening their existing mental health services and adapting how they are delivered, so it doesn’t have to be face-to-face. Once you start your studies, I would encourage you to stay in touch with your provider’s student support and welfare teams, as these services are likely to be an important source of support. As well as speaking to your university, any student who is struggling can access online resources from Public Health England, along with online support from the NHS and the mental health charity, Mind.
Finally, I was glad to be able to answer lots of questions that are on your minds during the recent UCAS Facebook Live event. It was great to hear your views directly and understand what the most important issues for you are, so I can help to address them. I am looking forward to taking part in another UCAS Facebook Live on 5 May, so if you have questions about this letter or any other issues, please put them forward and tune in.
I remain committed to helping you, as prospective students, to move on to the next exciting phase of your life.
Information for students taking A levels, Extended Project Qualifications (EPQ), Advanced Extension Awards (AEA) in maths, and GCSEs
The Department for Education (DfE) has announced A level results for 2020 in England will be published on the originally planned date – Thursday 13 August 2020. GCSEs will be released on Thursday 20 August.
In advance of this date, your school or college send exam boards two pieces of information for each of your subjects, based on what they know about your work and achievement – this will make sure your grade is a fair reflection of your performance:
- the grade they believe you were most likely to get if teaching, learning, and exams had happened as planned
- the order of students, by performance, within those grades
Your school or college will consider a range of things like your class and homework, your results in assignments and any mock exams, any non-exam assessment you might have done, and your general progress during your course.
The process outlined will ensure a set of fair and justifiable examination results are awarded for everyone affected by the examination and assessment cancellations. The announcement from Ofqual provides further information as to how and when your grades will be awarded to you by your examining body.
Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive, said: ‘For those applying to higher education, we expect them to be treated fairly and consistently, and universities and colleges to consider these grades in the same way as any qualifications from previous years.’
Information for students taking vocational and technical qualifications
Ofqual has confirmed many students will receive a calculated result – this could be based on the grade your teacher believed you were most likely to get combined with a range of other evidence.
However, it’s not going to be possible for calculated grades for all vocational qualifications, particularly those that signal occupational, professional or regulated competence, to have a calculated grade. For qualifications in this scenario, the Government is considering adapting the assessments or delivery models.
Read more on vocational and technical qualification grades in the information shared by The Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation (Ofqual).
Information for independent candidates
Where centres have accepted entries from independent candidates (students who have taught themselves, because they have been home-schooled, following distance-learning programmes or studying independently), those students should be included where the Head of Centre is confident that they and their staff have seen sufficient evidence of the student’s achievement to make an objective judgement.
Ofqual is urgently exploring whether there are alternative options for those students who do not have an existing relationship with a centre and who need results this summer for progression purposes. Ofqual has said, ‘Unfortunately this is unlikely to be possible for all external candidates, some of whom may instead need to take exams in the autumn to get their grades. Ofqual have said they will provide an update as soon as possible’.
Universities and colleges have been asked to look at what they can do to be flexible when making admissions decisions this summer for any private candidates who do not receive a grade. We advise you to contact your university or college who may be able to consider a range of other evidence and information for these students, to allow them to progress wherever possible.
For full Ofqual guidance visit gov.uk.
Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister, update 3 April 2020
As you know, the summer 2020 exam series will no longer go ahead in order to help fight the spread of COVID-19, but those of you due to sit A level exams (and equivalent) will still receive a grade with the same status as grades awarded in any other previous year. Your hard work will be rewarded and fairly recognised.
Ofqual (the qualifications regulator in England) has recently explained how your grade will be calculated: your school or college will take in to account a range of things like your class and homework, your results in assignments and any mock exams, any non-exam assessment you might have done, and your general progress during your course. You can find more information here.
I know many of you will also be studying a range of other qualifications, alongside or instead of A levels, in order to progress to higher education. We know you need information as soon as possible about assessment of these qualifications so you can plan your next steps.We are working as rapidly as possible, with Ofqual to agree the most appropriate approaches to this, and we will provide further information as soon as we can.
Universities have also confirmed that they will be flexible and will do all they can to support students to progress to higher education. This includes recognising the challenging circumstances many of you have been facing with completing your learning and assessment as a result of COVID-19, but also any challenges you may have faced due to personal circumstances.
There are plenty of higher education places available, including on some of the most competitive courses and at most competitive universities, so there is no need to worry or rush into decisions about where to study. Unconditional offers from universities might look attractive during this uncertain time, but it is worth spending time considering all your options and reflecting on which is the right university, college or other higher education provider, and which is the right course for you.
The releasing of A level results and the usual Clearing period will go ahead with the interests of students at heart, and with as little disruption as possible. Ofqual’s guidance published on 3 April makes it clear that there will be an appeals procedure for grades awarded. They will consult on proposals on how this will work shortly.
As students did last year, you will again from July 6 onwards have the option to self-release from a place you have previously accepted. Instead of having to contact your chosen university or college and wait to be released into Clearing, you can do this yourself, saving time. Nearly 30,000 students used self-release last year to change university or course. This process is simple, and UCAS has detailed guidance on the process that you should familiarise yourself with before making the decision to self-release.
We have recently asked higher education providers to temporarily pause making changes to offers already made to prospective students, such as converting conditional offers to unconditional offers or changing entry requirements, to allow time for everyone to understand the changes that are needed to ensure that offers are made in a way that maximises student choice. No applicant will be disadvantaged by this pause. Higher education providers are still making conditional offers as usual, and this is unaffected. It also won’t affect students progressing applications. If you already have your qualifications (for example, if you are a mature student) you will not be impacted by the pause.
We know these are uncertain times, and these issues will be causing some anxiety for many of you. There is a lot of support out there.
If you are taking other qualifications, you might have questions about how these will be assessed and how grades will be awarded. The table below will give you an indication of the latest updates from the awarding organisations. If yours isn't listed, or you need more information, we recommend you contact the awarding organisation directly and they will be able to give you the most up-to-date advice.
Access to HE Diploma
Cambridge International IGCSE and international A level
City & Guilds international vocational qualifications, technical qualifications, and end-point assessments (EPAs)
Irish Leaving Certificate
NCFE and CACHE qualifications
OCR Cambridge Technicals
Oxford AQA international qualifications
We recognise that some students may feel disappointed that they haven’t been able to complete their assessments. If you do not feel your calculated grades reflect your expected performance, you will have the opportunity to appeal or you may choose to sit your assessments at the earliest reasonable opportunity. If you do this, you should be aware that taking your assessments later may impact you progressing to university in September as planned.
Attending a UCAS event?
To protect the health and wellbeing of all those attending, we’ve postponed UCAS higher education exhibitions until 31 July.
You can attend a virtual open day to find out more about unis, or chat to current students with Unibuddy.