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Universities told to pause unconditional offer-making for two more weeks

By Eleanor Busby, PA Education Correspondent

Universities have been urged to refrain from changing their offers to students from conditional to unconditional for a further two weeks to ensure school leavers do not feel “undue pressure”.

Universities Minister Michelle Donelan has asked institutions to extend a moratorium on altering offers already made to prospective students, which was due to end on Monday April 20, until May 4.

A letter to universities, from the Office for Students (OfS), says the extension is needed while the Government works out how to ensure the “continued stability” of the higher education sector.

It comes after vice-chancellors warned that universities are likely to face “financial failure” amid the Covid-19 crisis without emergency funding of at least £2 billion from the Government.

Universities UK (UUK) said the sector could face major financial risks in the next academic year amid a predicted sharp fall in international students and a rise in home student deferrals.

In the letter to universities, OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge says: “These are difficult times and we do recognise that universities and colleges will be concerned about the next academic year and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on recruitment.

“However, this extension will allow the Government, providers and their representative organisations, Ucas and others, to discuss further how to ensure the continued stability and integrity of the higher education sector.”

She adds: “The moratorium is intended explicitly to support students, and ensure that they can take decisions on where, what and how to study, free from any undue pressure.

“It is critical that the interests of prospective and current students lead our thinking in the coming weeks and months.”

Students will receive their GCSE and A-level grades on the pre-planned results days in August after exams were cancelled amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

School and college teachers will provide grades for students which reflect the results they would have been most likely to achieve if the exams had gone ahead.

They will also rank pupils within each grade for each subject but these grades will not be shared with families until final results are issued.

The OfS has stressed that it is not in the interests of students for conditional offers to be changed to unconditional offers before they have received their results in the summer.

The letter adds: “Higher education providers should not place any pressure on applicants through time-limited offers or other inducements at any time, but this is particularly important at this time of increased anxiety.”

Ms Donelan tweeted: “It is vital to maintain stability in higher education at this uncertain time.

“I am calling for universities to continue pausing on any changes to offers to protect students and the sector from the challenges Covid-19 presents.”

A two-week moratorium on altering entry requirements was first introduced by the minister last month after institutions switched conditional offers to students to unconditional offers to maximise their intake.

It was then extended to April 20 and has now been further extended to May 4.

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