In April this year, shortly after the closure of schools and the announcement of the cancellation of this year’s A Levels and Scottish Highers, we surveyed young people applying to university through UCAS. This revealed significant worries about the grading process and how that would impact their chances of getting into their preferred university and course. It also showed significant uncertainty about the best course of action, with 20% of applicants reporting that they had changed their mind, or were now uncertain about their plans due to the pandemic.
This new survey of applicants, conducted in late July, shows that uncertainty and worries still persist.
The proportion of applicants who say they're less likely to begin university in the Autumn.
20% of applicants have changed their plans since the pandemic or they are still unsure.
Almost 1 in 3 applicants expect to miss out on their first choice because of the pandemic
- 32% of applicants say that the pandemic has made them less likely to begin university this autumn.
- But there is still a lot of uncertainty. 20% say their plans have changed since the pandemic or they are still unsure what to do. Just 5% say they are definitely now planning to not attend this autumn, with 6% having changed preferred university and 9% not sure. This is similar to April, but with some of the ‘unsures’ having made up their mind.
- Of those changing their mind or uncertain, the largest group (50%) cite worries about achieving the grades to get into their first choice course. 42% are worried about the quality of education on offer this year, while other factors cited include worries about student debt (24%), health concerns (15%) and changes in their ability or willingness to move away from home (17%).
- However, there are substantial worries among all applicants, including those still intending to take up a place. Almost three quarters (73%) are worried about being able to take part in university social life, with two thirds (67%) worried about losing face to face teaching. 62% are concerned about the cost of living at university and 54% about the potential for catching or spreading Covid-19.
- Working class applicants were slightly more likely to be worried about moving away (36%) and cost of living (66%) than those from middle class homes. BAME students were more likely to be worried about moving away from home (42%), compared to 30% of white applicants.
- 34% think they are more likely to require UCAS Clearing or Adjustment due to the pandemic, linked with worries about achieving their first choice grades: 30% say the pandemic means they will be less likely to get into their first choice course. This is despite warnings about university places being undersubscribed this autumn due to a drop in international students.
- 16% of applicants say they are less likely to live away from home during term time, including 20% from working class backgrounds, compared to 14% middle class. This is potentially concerning from a social mobility perspective, as it could reinforce existing inequalities.
1. Applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds who have narrowly missed their offer grades should be given additional consideration. Contextualising admissions in this year’s application cycle is more important than ever, given the recent upheaval in schools and the cancellation of exams.
2. In the future, university admissions should move to Post-Qualification Applications. The unreliability of predicted grades has been acknowledged in Ofqual’s role in adjusting grades. We should take this opportunity to remove predicted grades from the system entirely by moving to a post-qualification system going forward.
3. It is vital that schools are able to offer additional support and advice to students making decisions around their future. This is particularly the case for those who are the first in their family to attend university, or those from disadvantaged backgrounds more generally. This could be done remotely if necessary.
4. Additional financial support for students is vital both to ensure access is not harmed for current university applicants from families suffering from financial stresses due to coronavirus. Universities should bolster hardship funds where possible, including increasing awareness of such funds. But government should also consider stepping in to offer emergency maintenance grants.