University leaders say their institutions are ready to help the growing number of students applying to university this summer and that students should continue to be ambitious with their study choices.
In the lead up to Results Day for AS/A levels, many vocational qualifications including Level 3 BTECs, and Scottish Highers and Advanced Highers on Tuesday 10 August, Universities UK and UCAS are issuing advice for applicants and their families.
This stresses that, like last summer, universities will adapt to the new assessment arrangements, be flexible when considering results, and support students in their decision making.
There is no algorithm this year. Instead, for most qualifications, results will come from teacher assessment, which means pupils will be assessed by their teachers only on what they have been taught.
Commenting Alistair Jarvis, Universities UK Chief Executive, said:
"We appreciate that this year's school leavers have had a disrupted and difficult time because of the pandemic and that results day can be stressful. University admissions teams will be going the extra mile over the coming weeks to support students. They will take account of individual circumstances and do what they can to make it a smooth transition to university. Students should continue to be ambitious in their choices, gaining a university experience and qualification can transform their lives."
Clare Marchant, UCAS' Chief Executive, said:
"Students can expect to be well supported by UCAS and universities as they make their decisions over the summer. Universities and colleges continue to be flexible, as they have been throughout the pandemic, and have worked hard to be able to welcome more students onto their courses in the autumn.
"Whatever their individual circumstances, there will be a range of options for students to choose from. Thousands of undergraduate courses have vacancies in Clearing, and our apprenticeship service is also ready to help students who are considering this career pathway. UCAS is ready to help students make the right choices for them, leading to the next successful steps in their learning and careers."
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said:
"As we move towards results day, I want to reassure students that flexibility and fairness are at the heart of our assessment plans, to ensure they can go onto the next stage of their lives, and that they are fully supported as they make these important choices.
"We have been working alongside schools, colleges, awarding organisations, and the higher education sector so we can continue to put students' interests at the centre of decision-making, and ensure they have the time to carefully consider their options and make the best choices for their future.
"I'd like to thank all universities for their ongoing commitment to ensuring students have access to the opportunities needed to succeed."
Universities UK and UCAS have issued this advice for this year's applicants:
1. The importance of careers advice
Whether things go better or worse than expected on results day, applicants should turn to their school/college advisers for advice and admissions teams at universities will be on hand to lend their support so applicants can make informed choices about where, when and what to study. UCAS' website, social media channels, which now include TikTok, and experts on the phone can also provide personalised information and advice to help students with their decisions.
2. It's not just about grades
Universities offer places based on a range of factors, not just qualifications, such as other relevant experience, sometimes including performance at interview or audition, and individual family and schooling circumstances. Even if applicants do not get the required grades, they should not assume it rules out their first university choice.
This year's exam results will be verified and quality assured, and universities are experts in managing admissions so students should be assured they will be fairly treated, even though the method of assessment this year – teacher-assessed grades in England or centre-determined grades in Wales and Northern Ireland – is different.
4. Universities will continue to be flexible
Universities appreciate that the impact of Covid-19 has made life difficult for applicants and they will take this into account as they award places. Universities will continue to be flexible in their admissions policies, given the level of disruption to schooling over the last 18 months. This means universities will, as in other years, take an applicant's own circumstances into account as entry decisions are made. This contextualisation will especially help students from disadvantaged backgrounds – who have applied in record numbers this year, following the highest ever level of acceptance numbers in 2020.
Students can appeal their results - firstly to their school/college and then, if they still think there is an error, to the exam board. However, applicants should speak to their chosen university before opting to appeal because it might not be necessary, and it could hold up securing their place. Also, applicants need to remember that grades can go up, down or remain the same following appeals this year. It is recommended that the student share their appeal results with universities by the advisory UCAS deadline of 8 September, though students should stay in touch with their universities if this will be an issue.
6. Sitting an exam in the autumn
A level exams are available for those who wish to sit an exam (in England) in October but doing so will almost certainly mean it would be too late to start a university course this autumn. If you choose to sit an exam in autumn, universities and colleges may consider these as 'first-sits'.
7. Impact of Covid
Universities continue to respond in-line with public health requirements and, although it is too early to predict what these might be in the autumn, applicants can be confident that universities are putting students at the heart of their decisions, working hard to give as much help and support as possible to students in these unprecedented, difficult times.
8. Scotland and Wales
Pupils in Wales and Scotland have received 'provisional grades', but they should not expect universities to confirm places based on these grades – students should wait for results day in August just like pupils in England and Northern Ireland.
9. Extra support preparing for university
Universities are stepping up efforts to support the education and wellbeing of applicants transitioning to higher education this autumn with tailored support and activities (see case studies) that recognises the disruption they have faced during the Covid-19 pandemic. Applicants should speak to their university about how they can best prepare for the start of their university experience.
10. University remains a great choice
Starting university in 2021 is an excellent choice. A university experience gives students the knowledge, skills and contacts to pursue their ambitions and puts graduates in a strong position as the economy recovers. A degree from a UK university continues to give a significant boost to employment prospects and improve earning potential.
Notes to editors
- Universities UK is the collective voice of 140 universities in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Its mission is to create the conditions for UK universities to be the best in the world; maximising their positive impact locally, nationally and globally. Universities UK acts on behalf of universities, represented by their heads of institution.
- UCAS, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, is an independent charity, and the UK's shared admissions service for higher education. Our services support young people making post-18 choices, as well as mature learners, by providing information, advice, and guidance to inspire and facilitate educational progression to university, college, or an apprenticeship. We manage almost three million applications, from around 700,000 people each year, for full-time undergraduate courses at over 380 universities and colleges across the UK.