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Lowering degree entry requirements ‘could see students struggle’

Photo issued by Leicester University of their vice-chancellor Nishan Canagarajah who said that universities should not simply lower entry requirements for A-level students in their efforts to compensate for disruption caused by the pandemic.

By Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent

Universities should not simply lower entry requirements for A-level students in their efforts to compensate for disruption caused by the pandemic, a vice-chancellor has said.

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, the University of Leicester’s vice-chancellor, warned that students who are admitted on lower grades could struggle without “basic knowledge” when they arrive.

In an interview with the PA news agency, Prof Canagarajah said reducing the entry grades required will not necessarily benefit the students who have faced the greatest disruption to learning due to school and college closures.

Instead, universities should look contextual information provided by schools in applications and offer transition support to bridge gaps in learning, he said.

His comments come after Birmingham and Surrey universities announced plans to reduce entry requirements by one grade for most courses in 2021 to recognise Covid-19 disruption.

Since then, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has announced that GCSE, AS and A-level exams in England will not go ahead this summer and they will be replaced by teacher assessments due to the impact of the pandemic.

The University of Leicester has said it will not lower entry requirements for 2021, but it will trust teachers’ judgments as they know their students best.

The institution will review schools’ submissions about the challenges students have faced due to Covid-19 alongside their applications.

Prof Canagarajah told PA: “What we need to do is to make sure they have the right knowledge to come into one of the universities and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

Leicester will offer transition support to A-level students to ensure they are fully supported and ready to start university in the autumn.

Prof Canagarajah said: “The key thing we want to ensure is that our admissions process is fair and put the students first.

“And the second priority is that when they come to university they should be able to benefit from the university education.

“So just lowering the grades and bringing them in doesn’t solve the problem, because they may still struggle without the basic knowledge.”

His comments come ahead of the Ucas application deadline for the majority of courses, which has been extended until January 29 following the Government’s decision to instruct students to study from home.

Prof Canagarajah said: “When it comes to admissions, I would urge all universities to focus on fairness to ensure students can still reach their full potential and achieve the grades they deserve.

“We are not driving down students’ ambition.”

In November, the University of Surrey announced grade requirements would be lowered to help “relieve the pressure and anxiety” faced by young people who will have seen their learning affected across two academic years.

It came after the University of Birmingham announced plans to reduce entry requirements for 2021 by one grade in recognition of the impact of Covid-19 on A-level students.

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