The recruitment of undergraduate students for the next academic year is crucial for the sustainability of the higher education sector, and competitive pressures, in the context of anticipated reduction in international students, will be acute.
We believe it is important that all regulated providers in Wales act in the very best interests of applicants. Indeed, providers in Wales and around the UK nations, along with the UK’s governments, believe this too.
While the governments of all four nations are taking a keen interest in this, admissions decisions are matters for universities, and the 1992 Further and Higher Education Act addresses this explicitly.
Nevertheless, when it came to reviewing offers to prospective students, we – Welsh Government and HEFCW – agreed that it would be sensible that a period of pause and reflection would be appropriate in Wales, as proposed elsewhere in the UK.
This was initially implemented as a two week moratorium on unconditional offers from universities. At the time of writing, this has been extended following a request from all governments of the UK to the universities and colleges admissions service UCAS.
We hope that pausing unconditional offers will allow some time for further clarification on how A-level grades will be determined around the nations, and to provide stability for the higher education sector across the UK. Offers based on level 3 qualification results (A-levels and equivalent) gained in previous years can still be made.
Universities UK plans to propose a package of measures to the UK government to support higher education providers across all countries of the UK to enable them to cope with the serious financial challenges resulting from the pandemic. I am also in close contact with the Director of Universities Wales on this issue, and we and Universities Wales will share further information with providers as it becomes available.
Furthermore, we and the other UK funders and regulators are in discussion with UCAS to see whether any other changes can be made to this year’s recruitment cycle to stabilise the system. This could include extending the ‘decline by default’ deadline (where prospective students are assumed to have declined if they do not confirm their offer before the UCAS acceptance deadline); and increasing available information, advice and guidance to applicants to take account of the fact that school leavers now have reduced access to careers support.
I hope you can all agree that this is the most sensible approach for the moment. In the meantime, HEFCW continues to work hard, often behind the scenes, but most certainly in partnership with the other countries of the UK, to assure, as much as possible, the stability of this year’s recruitment cycle and to minimise the impact on the 2020/21 academic year more generally.