UCAS, Rosehill, New Barn Lane, Cheltenham, GL52 3LZ.
Message from the Universities Minister, Michelle Donelan:
I understand the uncertainty that many of you who are planning to go to university will feel at the moment, due to the impact of coronavirus on all aspects of your lives. I wanted to write to you and address as many of these issues as I can.
The Government is working closely with universities to ensure prospective students can start and continue their studies. We want to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on your ability to progress to university and achieve your goals. This means ensuring that this year’s admissions cycle faces as little disruption as possible and Clearing goes ahead as normal, so you have every opportunity to make the decision that is right for you.
When I previously wrote, I told you we had asked universities to temporarily pause making changes to offers already made to prospective students: this ends today, Monday 4 May. The Government, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS), the Office for Students, and universities have been working together and today we have announced measures that will empower you to make more informed decisions about entry to higher education.
We have agreed with UCAS to bolster the Clearing process this year. Whether you have a conditional or unconditional offer, you will have the opportunity to change your choice once you have received your grades. This will be supported by a new service that can suggest alternative opportunities, based on your qualifications, your course interest, and other preferences, helping you filter the multitude of courses in a structured way.
In response to calls from universities, we have also temporarily limited the numbers of students each higher education provider can recruit, to ensure a fair, structured distribution across providers, and deter practices which might induce you to make a decision against your own interests. Providers will be able to recruit full-time, domestic students up to 5% above their forecasts in the next academic year, and the Government will also have the discretion to allocate an additional 10,000 places, with 5,000 ring-fenced for nursing, midwifery or allied health courses, to support the country’s vital public services.
I want to reassure you that, if you have accepted an offer, meet the conditions, and decide to take the place, nothing has changed.
On 16 April, Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, announced that A level results day will remain unchanged (13 August). We also recently set out the approaches to other Level 3 qualifications (see assessment of vocational and technical qualifications), and more information will be provided in the coming days and weeks. I am also pleased that UCAS has moved its forthcoming decision deadline to 18 June. This means you will have more time to make important decisions about your future, if you need it.
I will continue to work to make sure there is a clear and supportive admissions system that allows you as prospective students to make the best choice for you.
Those of you planning to begin your studies away from home may well have concerns about the impact the coronavirus outbreak could have on your ability to move into your term-time accommodation next academic year.
I am pleased to tell you that a number of universities and private accommodation providers are already considering how these impacts could be managed in accommodation contracts for the 2020/21 academic year, to give you confidence to make your plans.
I welcome the actions of many university and private accommodation providers in waiving and reducing rents this summer, along with their efforts to support and care for their students through this difficult period. This gives me confidence in their ability to help us all navigate the unprecedented circumstances that make the future so hard to predict.
If you have already signed an accommodation contract for next year and, because of coronavirus, think it may no longer fit your requirements, you should talk directly to your housing provider. If you run into problems, you will be able to raise a complaint under one of the accommodation codes of practice, as long as your provider is a code member: The Student Accommodation Code, Unipol, and National Residential Landlords Association.
While I am confident that consumer protections are in place to help with your plans to move into halls or private housing next academic year, it is still important that you carefully read your accommodation contract before putting pen to paper.
Means Tested Maintenance Loans
Many of you will have applied for a Maintenance Loan for the coming academic year, 2020/21, and some of your families will have seen their income reduced in recent times. If you have been awarded the maximum Maintenance Loan, you do not need to do anything, as you will receive the maximum level of support as planned. If you have applied for support, and have been awarded a lower amount than the maximum, and believe your household income for the current tax year (2020/21) will drop by at least 15% compared to the household income you provided when you were initially assessed, Student Finance England may be able to help. Further guidance on eligibility and how to apply is available online.
Mental health support
I understand some of you may be feeling uncertain and anxious, and it is vital that you can access the mental health support you need. I have told higher education providers that this should be a priority at this time, and many are strengthening their existing mental health services and adapting how they are delivered, so it doesn’t have to be face-to-face. Once you start your studies, I would encourage you to stay in touch with your provider’s student support and welfare teams, as these services are likely to be an important source of support. As well as speaking to your university, any student who is struggling can access online resources from Public Health England, along with online support from the NHS and the mental health charity, Mind.
Finally, I was glad to be able to answer lots of questions that are on your minds during the recent UCAS Facebook Live event. It was great to hear your views directly and understand what the most important issues for you are, so I can help to address them. I am looking forward to taking part in another UCAS Facebook Live tomorrow (5 May), so if you have questions about this letter or any other issues, please put them forward and tune in.
I remain committed to helping you, as prospective students, to move on to the next exciting phase of your life.
Michelle Donelan, Universities Minister.