Grade hikes 'may swamp universities', regulator warns

Grade hikes ‘may swamp universities’: Inflated marks for scrapped A levels could lead to record applications for further education, regulator warns

  • Office for Students has urged university admission officers not to ‘over-recruit’
  • Fears universities could be swamped by too many students given top grades
  • The Office warned universities faced punishments if courses are too packed

Universities could be swamped with too many students this autumn due to teachers inflating grades, a regulator has warned.

The Office for Students (OfS) today urged admissions tutors not to ‘over-recruit’ in a year likely to see unusually high numbers of top-performers.

It said universities will face punishments – including fines – for flooding their courses at the expense of quality of provision.

This year, A-level exams will be scrapped for the second time because of the pandemic and instead youngsters will get a teacher-assessed mark.

Universities could be swamped with too many students this autumn due to teachers inflating grades, a regulator has warned (stock image)

Experts predict it will lead to a repeat of last year, when a record 38.1 per cent of grades were A or above – compared with the usual 25 per cent.

It will mean a much larger number of students will be eligible for a place at the top universities.

But the OfS urged institutions to ‘be sensible’ and avoid ‘abusing students’ trust’ by ‘sacrificing quality for inflated intakes’.

Chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: ‘It is vital that students starting this autumn do not face further disappointment because the quality of their course is reduced by over-recruitment and poor organisation.

Office for Students Chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: ‘It is vital that students starting this autumn do not face further disappointment because the quality of their course is reduced by over-recruitment and poor organisation’

‘Universities and colleges need to plan wisely to ensure that all students have a high-quality experience. The Office for Students will also use its powers to step in where this is not the case.’

Universities tend to recruit as many students as they can to generate tuition fee income.

In the past some have gone too far and have been accused of being unable to teach them properly.

Last year, amid the glut of students caused by grade inflation, universities gave out places to a record number of students.

The OfS also revealed that it is investigating some universities already over concerns they may be dishing out mass ‘conditional unconditional’ offers.

These guarantee a student a place providing they list the university as their ‘firm’ choice, but they have been banned recently. Critics say they amount to ‘pressure selling’ and are a ploy to get ‘bums on seats’.

Data from admissions service UCAS shows a record 42 per cent of 18-year-olds have applied to start university this year, a 12 per cent rise on last year.

Universities tend to recruit as many students as they can to generate tuition fee income. In the past some have gone too far and have been accused of being unable to teach them properly (stock image)

Miss Dandridge urged universities to prioritise disadvantaged students in cases where they are faced with too many applicants with top grades.

She said: ‘With the rise in applicant numbers and plans for teacher-assessed grades, universities and colleges are likely to have many well-qualified students to choose from. We expect universities and colleges to do their part to admit and support the most disadvantaged students.

‘In some cases, this will mean looking beyond grades to identify potential by understanding the context in which those grades have been achieved.’

Many universities already make lower-than-usual offers to students who have faced adversity.

But Miss Dandridge indicated she wants tutors to ramp up these efforts even further.

She added: ‘The pandemic has hit many of the most disadvantaged groups hardest.

Last year, amid the glut of students caused by grade inflation, universities gave out places to a record number of students (stock image)

‘A student from a low-income family without adequate space and resources to study will likely have faced far greater barriers to learning at home compared to their more advantaged peers. These barriers need to be recognised in the admissions process and beyond.’

A spokesman for Universities UK said: ‘Admissions teams have worked incredibly hard throughout the pandemic and they are continuing to pull out all the stops to make sure that this year’s applicants get the opportunity to fulfil their potential at university.

‘Universities will continue to be fair and flexible in their decision making, acknowledging the disruption students have faced and recognising the disadvantage that different groups of students have experienced.’

He said the organisation had updated its Fair Admissions Agreement ‘to demonstrate how the sector places students’ best interests at the heart of admissions decision-making processes’.

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