Universities need £3BILLION: IFS warns of soaring cost of giving cash

Universities need £3BILLION: IFS warns of soaring costs of paying top institutions to take on more students AND bailing out less popular ones

  • Universities inundated with calls from medical students with new correct grades
  • There is a cap set on medical  school places due to cost and NHS placements
  • Universities UK has written a letter to Mr Williamson to seek ‘urgent assurances’ 

Top universities have called on the Government for additional funds to take on more students and for the cap on the number of pupils studying medicine to be lifted amid fears ministers face a £3billion bailout.

Thousands of students are scrambling to get places at their first choice university after ministers screeching u-turn on A-Level results means they now have improved grades.

But top schools are struggling with the sheer volume of demand as the 55,000 who accepted a place at another university or bagged a new course at clearing are now abandon those decisions to try and get into their top choice.

A number of universities, such as Cambridge, have already said that some students will have to defer until next year.

The government previously urged universities to honour the offers they made to pupils, but Vice-Chancellors were last night in talks with ministers to secure additional funding to take on thousands of additional students.

Meanwhile there are fears that students leaving lower-ranked institutions to go to their first choice could leave them vulnerable financially, with research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) suggesting this could cost £140million.

They previously warned the loss of the university sector in total could run to as high as anywhere between £3billion and £19billion.  

In a further briefing note today the think tank warned that while leading universities would now be ‘awash’ with students, many lower-ranked universities risked losing a substantial share of their intake, which could be ‘financially crippling’.

Report authors Jack Britton and Ben Waltmann said: ‘Lower-ranked universities could dip into the pool of potential students who got no offers or have not yet applied.

‘These students will have much better grades than usual this year, and many might be interested in going to university given the exceptionally tough labour market.

‘Attracting these students could help the lowest-ranked universities avoid large losses. It would also pose a new challenge, as many of these students could be underprepared for their courses, especially having missed out on the experience of actually sitting their A Level exams.’

It comes as the government has been urged to take on more students at medical school, where places are highly-competitive and much of the cost of training doctors is met by the taxpayer.

Top civil servant at Department for Education ‘is facing axe’ over series of school disasters 

By Claire Ellicot, Political Correspondent for the Daily Mail

The top civil servant at the Department for Education could be in line for the sack after ministers raised concerns about a series of fiascos.

Jonathan Slater has been permanent secretary at the department since 2016, serving under four education secretaries.

However, his future is reportedly in question – despite Government denials that he will be leaving his post.

Ministers are said to be concerned about the recent failure to reopen schools before the summer, and exam grading.

Should he leave, Mr Slater would be the fourth permanent secretary to vacate their post within seven months.

Sir Philip Rutnam left the Home Office in January after sensationally accusing Home Secretary Priti Patel of bullying. He also said he would take the Government to an employment tribunal.

Sir Simon McDonald said in June that he was going to leave the Foreign Office in the autumn, and Sir Richard Heaton said earlier this summer he was standing down at the Ministry of Justice.

Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill was ousted earlier this year – and is being given a £250,000 payout. He is due to step down in September, and his replacement has not yet been announced.

Helen McNamara, who was head of propriety and ethics at the Cabinet Office before her promotion to de facto deputy cabinet secretary, is reportedly set to be transferred to a job as permanent secretary for a large Whitehall department.

Institutions are currently in a bind because the number of places at medical schools are capped by the government because of cost – the amount to train doctors exceeds the amount paid by undergraduates in fees – and there are restrictions on NHS work placements.  

Health Secretary Matt Hancock this morning told Sky News he acknowledged calls to increase student places and promised that the Government is working on the issue.

A number of students who were planning to study medicine had their grades lowered by the standardised algorithm. 

The government has removed the cap for other subjects so universities can take on more students, but kept it in place for medicine and dentistry.

The u-turn by under-pressure Education Secretary Gavin Williamson means students now have significantly improved grades and can try and get into the school of their choice.   

Universities UK has written a letter to Mr Williamson to seek ‘urgent assurances’ that he is talking to the Department of Health about increasing the number of medical school places from the current number of 7,500, as reported by the BBC.

The letter also said: ‘The role of universities in training the medical workforce is essential for all regions and nations of the UK, as clearly shown by our members’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic.’

The Royal College of GPs and British Medical Association have also backed calls for more places for medics.

But Dr Helena McKeown, BMA representative body chair, said additional places would require more funding and support from the government.

She said: ‘The BMA has long-campaigned for widening participation in medicine so that all those with the ability and desire to become doctors are given the opportunity to do so. The medical workforce needs to be far more reflective of the diverse patient population it serves, and following the U-turn by Government earlier this week, we have urged medical schools to review the applications of those who were earlier denied places due to the unfair grading process.

‘The UK is vastly short of doctors so increasing the number of medics in training makes sense, however this must be followed up with support and funding for both the universities sector and the NHS further down the line. 

‘Extra students will require more clinical placements during medical school, more places in the foundation programme for new doctors, and ultimately the need to create more jobs when they fully qualify.

Universities UK has written a letter to Mr Williamson (pictured) to seek ‘urgent assurances’ that he is talking to the Department of Health about increasing the number of medical school places from the current number of 7,500, as reported by the BBC

Letter asks for money

The joint general secretaries of the National Education Union (NEU) have written to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson to demand changes to exams in 2021 to ensure grades “properly recognise and reward”.

Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney said the controversy around last week’s A-level results “must never happen again” and urged the minister to prepare for new spikes in coronavirus that could lead to “further loss of schooling”.

In the letter, they said: “It is clear to the National Education Union that Government needs to make much bigger changes to next year’s exams in order to build confidence that the grades awarded, upon which young people’s life chances are determined, properly recognise and reward their achievements.

“You should be working, now, to examine different possible scenarios and to develop contingency plans in case of further school and college closures.”

The NEU leaders said the Government should reduce the amount of content assessed in 2021’s GCSE and A-level exams, work with teachers to develop a “robust” system for moderated centre-assessed grades and commission an independent review into the assessment methods for GCSEs and A-levels.

They added: “The current over-reliance on end of course exams increases student anxiety and fails to give a fair reflection of what students can achieve. All options should be considered to ensure that young people are rewarded for their achievements, supported to fulfil their potential and not held back due to their background.”

‘We cannot afford to have new doctors finding themselves unemployed in five or 10 years’ time.’

The University and College Union (UCU) and National Union of Students (NUS) have also signed a joint letter to Mr Williamson.

It warned the lifting of the student cap – which had aimed to prevent institutions from over-recruiting to make up for lost revenue as a result of Covid-19 – would ‘remove one of the only interventions that the government has made to help mitigate the financial impact of the Covid crisis on universities’.

The letter said: ‘While it is still unclear exactly what the distribution of domestic students across higher education will be, it is widely anticipated that institutions will move as much as possible to honour their offers.

‘This will likely lead to expanded recruitment at high-tariff institutions at the expense of lower-tariff universities, shifting the financial pain from the Covid crisis onto many of the institutions that play a vital role in widening participation and social mobility.’

The letter added scrapping the cap did not ‘address the practical barriers that prevent many institutions from recruiting higher numbers than they originally intended in order to honour their conditional offers – including staffing and physical capacity’.

It comes after a report by the IFS released last month said that 13 universities were in dire financial straights and may require a bailout from the government. 

Today, the think-tank described the Government’s handling of the A-level grades fiasco as a ‘clear fail’ which would have ‘repercussions for universities and students’ for years to come.

‘A-level results should never have been released before being subject to scrutiny beyond Ofqual. The Government should not have had to rely on shocked 18-year-olds on results day to realise there was a problem,’ the briefing note from the IFS said. 

Jack Britton, an associate director at the IFS, said: ‘The Government’s U-turn on A-level grades will cause further disruption for universities. Some will struggle with higher than expected numbers of students, while others may find it hard to fill their places.

It came days after students had protested about an algorithm deciding what results were right 

British Medical Association backs lifting cap on medical school places 

Dr Helena McKeown, BMA representative body chair, and BMA lead for education, training and workforce, said:

‘The BMA has long-campaigned for widening participation in medicine so that all those with the ability and desire to become doctors are given the opportunity to do so. The medical workforce needs to be far more reflective of the diverse patient population it serves, and following the U-turn by Government earlier this week, we have urged medical schools to review the applications of those who were earlier denied places due to the unfair grading process.

‘The UK is vastly short of doctors so increasing the number of medics in training makes sense, however this must be followed up with support and funding for both the universities sector and the NHS further down the line. 

‘Extra students will require more clinical placements during medical school, more places in the foundation programme for new doctors, and ultimately the need to create more jobs when they fully qualify.

‘We cannot afford to have new doctors finding themselves unemployed in five or 10 years’ time.’

‘Had the Government been more transparent about their proposed mechanism for assigning grades, all this could have been avoided.’

Labour’s shadow universities minister Emma Hardy told Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday that the government needs to offer support to the under-siege sector. 

She said: ‘This is what I’m hearing from the sector at the moment that they are feeling very vulnerable in this situation.

‘You have to remember this is not happening in isolation, the IFS (Institute for Fiscal Studies) only recently said that there were thirteen institutions at risk of going bankrupt and we were calling on the government to say we need to stop any institution from going under. We need to offer them protection.’  

As of Tuesday morning, more than 11,000 students have had no decision made on their application and have an undefined status within the Clearing system by UCAS, while 20,000 students have already deferred, the highest number since 2011, reports The Telegraph.

Durham University is offering bursaries and promising those who defer guaranteed college accommodation, in an attempt to persuade students to attend in 2021, as reported by The Guardian.

It is not clear how much the bursary will be worth or if other universities will follow suit. 

Prof Richard Harvey, the academic director of admissions at the University of East Anglia, told The Guardian it had 185 medical places. And are now oversubscribed by around 50 students. 

He said: ‘I have 1,500 emails in my inbox from angry people – mostly medics – all trying to work out what the hell they do now.’

‘It’s perfectly possible for ministers to convert an apology into something that’s meaningful, but that means opening the cheque book and fixing the problem. Especially as we were all clapping carers not so long ago. Weren’t we all meant to be supporting the NHS?

Ofqual is accused of ‘threatening to undermine public trust in statistics’ as probe into A-levels grading fiasco is launched

Ofqual was accused of ‘threatening to undermine public trust in statistics’ last night as the first official probe into the grading fiasco was launched. 

The Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) launched an inquiry yesterday into the beleaguered exam body’s algorithm – the first in a series of humiliating investigations. 

It came as the Information Commissioner’s Office hinted it may also probe whether the algorithm met data protection laws. 

In a statement, the ICO told the Mail: ‘We understand how important A-levels results and other qualifications are to students across the country. When so much is at stake, it’s especially important that their personal data is used fairly and transparently.’ 

GDPR law says everyone has ‘the right not to be subject to a decision based solely on automated processing, including profiling, which produces legal effects concerning him or her or similarly significantly affects him or her’. 

Ed Humpherson, of the OSR, said in a letter it would ‘conduct a review of the statistical models put in place’, to be published in September. 

Hinting that other probes were likely, he said it would ‘seek to minimise overlap between our review and others’. 

Former schools minister David Laws, executive chairman of the Education Policy Institute, said: ‘We urgently need a fully independent review of what happened this year so that errors made are clearly understood and so that the right lessons are learned for the future.’ 

Ofqual declined to comment. 

The chair of the Royal College of GPs has also urged the Government to dramatically increase the number of undergraduate medical places to ensure doctors ‘represent the communities they serve’.

Dr Martin Marshall called on universities minister Michelle Donelan to urgently provide clarity on the ethnicity and socio-economic background of prospective medical students hit by the A-level fiasco.

In an open letter, he said reports poorer communities were more likely to have been adversely affected by the system that saw this year’s grades awarded by algorithm were ‘deeply worrying’.

Dr Marshall also warned despite Monday’s U-turn, many will have lost their places on medical courses after universities started handing out spots based on students’ original results.

‘It is deeply worrying to hear that areas which are under-doctored and under-served by medical schools could also be more likely to have students whose results were downgraded and who may not now be able to secure a place to study medicine,’ he said.

He added: ‘At the RCGP we are committed to ensuring that the medical profession is inclusive and representative; this includes the doctors of the future representing the communities they serve.’

Prof Marshall finished: ‘I’m sure that you will agree it will be essential for the future of the NHS that we have sufficient doctors to see our ever expanding and complex population of patients.’

The RCGP estimates the UK needs 20% more undergraduate medical places to serve the growing population, and wants caps on student numbers lifted as well as extra funding for universities to help meet demand.

It wants all students that meet the criteria to study medicine to be able to do so.

Meanwhile Boris Johnson has been accused of having a ‘lack of grip’ after a series of mishaps during the coronavirus crisis has left the Government being ‘laughed at’.

He is expected to make ‘minor’ changes to his Cabinet after the summer recess before a full January ‘reset’ when the Brexit transition period has ended.

Mr Johnson is refusing to sack his Education Secretary, who is desperately trying to cling onto his job after his humiliating A-levels climbdown. 

The Government has also faced criticism for its handling of the pandemic, including its botched NHS Test and Trace app and its excessive lockdown curbs.  

Mr Williamson’s humiliating U-turn and effort to blame Ofqual for the exams fiasco is seen by a growing number of Tory MPs as one blunder too far.

Lawyers have warned that students could take legal action against universities if they have to defer for a year after receiving an offer.

Thousands of students are scrambling to get places at their first choice university after a government U-turn means they can use their teacher assessed grades rather than the ones given to them by a standardised algorithm last Thursday. 

However a number of top universities, such as Cambridge, have already warned that they may not have capacity to take all the extra students, and some may have to defer their place until 2021.

Suzanne Rab, a barrister at Serle Court Chambers, told The Times: ‘I think there will be legal action by some to force universities to take them this year. You’re looking ultimately at a judicial review.’

A judicial review questions the decisions made by public bodies and normally claim that a government minister made a a mistake in law. 

Since the government u-turn 55,000 students are trying to get into their first choice institution. But schools are struggling for capacity, despite the government lifting a cap on the amount of places they can offer.

There have also been calls today for ministers to lift restrictions on places for medicine and dentistry, which are currently set by the government.

Tina Patel, a personal injury lawyer for Leigh Day, told the newspaper: ‘We have been inundated with inquiries from students who despite yesterday’s announcement have been left no better off.

‘Whilst the government has lifted the cap on the number of students universities can accept, the ultimate decision lies with the individual universities. 

‘Some students may be offered places this year; some may be required to defer for a year and be forced to take a year out. This poses difficulties in the current economic climate.’

 

Speaking to The Daily Telegraph, one Tory said the Government is ‘being seen as hapless’:  ‘We have had too many mishaps for a Government that is only a year old’.

 Another Tory backbencher said: ‘I’ve no doubt Boris is in touch with what is going on, but it really just feels as though there is a lack of grip.’

A third warned of ‘huge pressure building up at the bottom of the volcano’ and said the elections next May ‘could be an enormous wake up call’ to the Tories. 

‘Brexit and a Corbyn-led Labour party, which won us the election in 2019, will be rotting corpses by then,’ they told the newspaper. 

‘It’s not about what the Government does but whether it is competent. With fiascos like the grading scandal, we are giving our supporters good reason not to come out and support us. That’s a potential for a political tsunami to take place.’

Tories have made private submissions to party whips making it clear Mr Williamson should be sacked. Huw Merriman, who represents Bexhill and Battle, said: ‘It’s not something that should be passed on to Ofqual – the buck stops with government.’

The first meeting of a new taskforce set with tackling issues faced by universities following the Government’s exams U-turn took place on Tuesday.

In a statement, education minister Michelle Donelan said: ‘We are working closely with the higher education sector to understand the challenges facing universities and provide as much support as we can.

‘I led the first meeting of our new taskforce and I will hold meetings every day with the sector to resolve these issues.

‘We are supporting universities, including by announcing our intention to remove temporary student number controls and working with them to help them prioritise students and uphold their first choice either this coming year, or as a last resort the following year.

‘We announced a package of support for the sector during the pandemic, including bringing forward tuition fee and research funding, and a scheme to assess any restructuring support higher education providers may need.’

However, Labour’s shadow education minister Emma Hardy criticised the decision not to invite the representatives of staff or students to the meeting.

In a tweet, she said: ‘How can a task force solve the crisis facing universities without also speaking to student and staff representatives?’

Meanwhile, the headteachers’ union has called for an urgent independent review of the exams grading fiasco.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), has written to the Education Secretary demanding a review to rebuild trust because ‘public confidence has been badly shaken’.

He said: ‘It seems to be clear that the statistical model for moderating centre-assessed grades was flawed and that it produced many anomalous results.

‘But how did this happen, why were the problems not foreseen, and why were ministers not on top of this? Most importantly, what lessons can we learn for the future?’

It comes as GCSE students have been told they will receive their results on Thursday despite the Government’s U-turn on grading.

All schools and colleges will receive pupils’ GCSE grades from exam boards ahead of results day, the Joint Council for Qualifications (JCQ) said.

Exam boards said they have been ‘working hard’ to provide centre assessment grades, based on teachers’ estimates, or moderated grades if they are higher.

 

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