Skip to SearchSkip to ContentSkip to Footer
Home > Covid-19 > Admissions > Ensuring a fair admissions process

Ensuring a fair admissions process

​The impact of Covid-19 has been felt widely across the sector. Universities UK has proposed a balanced package of measures to provide stability and support for the whole sector to emerge from the pandemic, while continuing to support the effort to fight coronavirus in local communities and nation-wide.

As part of this package, Universities UK proposed a student stability measure, to be underpinned by a commitment that the sector will continue to support fairness in admissions. 

Detailed on this page is a proposed 'fair admissions agreement' – a set of principles and behaviours that demonstrate how the sector places the student interest at the heart of admissions decision-making processes, recognising the additional pressures on students during this difficult and disruptive time. It also draws on the work of UUK's fair admission review group which has been collecting and considering evidence since the autumn. This agreement has the support of the Universities UK Board.

Ensuring a fair admissions process for 2020/21 entry in England and Wales

The impact of COVID-19 risks creating huge volatility in the home/EU undergraduate student recruitment market, including between higher education providers.

To address this risk, the higher education sector proposed a student stability measure to operate over one recruitment cycle, in 2020/21.

To support the effective implementation of this for 2020/21, the student stability measure should be underpinned by a new sector agreement on fair admissions practices. 

The agreement – which applies in England and Wales – includes adhering to a new principle that universities will not put undue pressure on students, and new rules to restrict destabilising behaviours such as use of unconditional offers at volume.

The conditions of the proposed agreement are as set out below.

Agreement on fair admissions practices for 2020/21 in England and Wales

Universities' admissions processes for 2020/21 home undergraduate recruitment must put the student interest first. This means universities must:

Abide by the UCAS terms of service: This includes recruiting all full-time home undergraduate applicants only through UCAS. As such, the type of offer, full conditions, subsequent offer or decision amendments, and Confirmation decisions must be transmitted to the applicant using Track in the first instance

Abide by the five existing Schwartz principles on fair admissions: Universities are to continue as usual in ensuring admissions practices are fair and transparent, including through clearing

Adhere to a new, sixth principle focused on the student interest, as follows: "A fair admissions system should strive to deliver the best outcome for the applicant, regardless of whether this is also the best outcome for the higher education provider"

Not engage in offer-making behaviour that would negatively impact student choice: This includes not making:

  • unconditional offers, except to: applicants who already hold their required grades; those applying to courses where admissions decisions have been informed by an interview, audition or additional application procedure (such as a submission of a portfolio or skills test), or those requiring special consideration due to illness or disability

  • conditional unconditional offers, which risk pressuring students to make a decision which might not be in their best interest

  • significant changes to offer making practices, or to offers made to applicants, since the start of the admissions moratorium which commenced 23 March 2020

Not engage in other behaviours that might place undue pressure on applicants: This includes in relation to aspects of an offer communicated to applicants within or outside of UCAS that are tied to accommodation and other material and financial inducements such as bursary applications or similar schemes introduced after 23 March 2020.

Be flexible in admissions decision-making by recognising applicants' contexts this year: This includes accounting for the unique circumstances certain 'private candidates' are in who might be unable to receive a Level 3 grade via a teacher assessment route, making reasoned decisions based on additional obtainable evidence in such cases

Ensure applicants this year are not systematically disadvantaged: This includes being mindful that this year's grades awarded via teacher assessment will have equal status to the grades awarded in other years and should be treated in this way by universities

Continue to seek to deliver on targets to widen access: This includes towards targets to increase the proportion of new students coming from disadvantaged backgrounds and other underrepresented groups

Command public confidence in higher education admissions: This means universities upholding the highest standards of conduct to support stability at this time

The role of the OfS and HEFCW

The OfS and HEFCW have roles to play in ensuring there are consequences resulting from any action taken by a university that does not live up to the expectations set out in the sector-wide agreement on fair admissions for 2020/21.

In England, the OfS has consulted on the introduction of a new time-limited condition of registration to protect the interests of students and support the stability and integrity of the higher education sector. The OfS will consider a provider's adherence to UUK's agreement as part of its consideration of compliance with its regulatory requirements, including the proposed new condition, subject to the outcomes of the consultation. Read the UUK response to the OfS consultation.

In Wales, HEFCW will monitor institutional performance and evaluate behaviour in relation to admissions to Welsh institutions, and will expect institutions to comply with the sector-wide agreement.


Further planned actions from UCAS to support fair admissions in 2020/21

UCAS is well-placed to support in understanding the application of the agreement's principles. To further support the sector-wide agreement, we understand that UCAS will be undertaking the following activities:

  • Adjusting existing deadlines within the application cycle to give students more time to make decisions.
  • Enhancing products and services to ensure students have full visibility of their options and to give choice and control over their application journey.
  • Developing high quality information and advice for students to ensure they are fully understanding of the application journey and their options.
  • Targeting audience-specific messages about the remainder of the cycle, the benefits of entering in 2020, the qualification awarding process, and choices available in Clearing.
  • Seeking to supply additional contextual analysis to promote confidence in the qualification awarding process and allow for timely admissions decision making.


Universities UK response to government’s support package for UK research jobs

27 June 2020
​The UK government has announced a support package to give greater job protection for researchers, scientists and technicians working at UK universities during coronavirus (COVID-19).

UUK response to latest UCAS data on applicant offers and student deferrals

25 June 2020
UUK has responded to the latest UCAS (18 June) data which details the number of applicants with a firm offer to start university this autumn and the latest on student deferrals.

UUK response to announcement on changes to home fee status from 2021/22

23 June 2020
​In response to the UK government's announcement that EU, other EEA and Swiss nationals will no longer be eligible for home fee status from 2021/22, Alistair Jarvis, Chief Executive of Universities UK, said: