Coronavirus: Universities’ unconditional offers moratorium extended

A moratorium on unconditional university offers has been extended for another two weeks as regulators deal with the fallout of summer exam cancellations. 

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, previously introduced a two-week moratorium on the practice to stop a “potentially dangerous scramble” by institutions to switch pupils’ offers. The moratorium was due to end on Monday, April 6. 

However, it has since been extended until April 20 in order to offer maximum security to the admissions process, higher education providers and students.

“I know many students will be anxious at this unprecedented time and worried about what it means for their future”, she said. 

“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.”

The Department for Education previously warned that a small number of universities had changed “a significant proportion” of their offers to undergraduate students from ‘conditional’ to ‘unconditional’.

Donelan has now written a letter to providers informing them of the extension and setting out the “very limited circumstances” in which the moratorium can be ignored.  

These include “international and domestic students who have already achieved the requisite qualifications, for example mature students.”

The letter explains the moratorium was introduced to halt “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”.

The universities minister informed institutions they should “continue to make conditional offers as usual” but “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.”

Yesterday Ofqual revealed details of how the teacher assessment grading system will work this summer after the coronavirus shutdown saw exams cancelled.

Under guidance released by the exams regulator, schools will be asked to provide both a centre grade in each subject for each pupil and a rank order of pupils within each grade – with judgments made “on the evidence that is available”. 

Donelan said the new guidance 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”.

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