Universities: Disadvantaged

Department for Education written question – answered on 9 September 2020.

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Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Shadow Minister (Education)

To ask the Secretary of State for Education, what plans he has to make an assessment of the effect of the (a) covid-19 outbreak and (b) 2020 A-level awards process on university applications from students from disadvantaged backgrounds for the 2020-21 academic year in order to mitigate any such adverse effects for the 2021-22 academic year.

Photo of Michelle Donelan Michelle Donelan Minister of State (Education)

The government will do whatever it takes to support people affected by COVID-19. This has been an incredibly difficult time for students and this government is making every effort to make sure that all those who planned to move on to higher education can do so.

Protecting students’ mental health and wellbeing is a priority. I wrote to all higher education providers asking them to ensure they continue to support students. We have clarified that providers can use funding worth £256 million for the academic year of 2020/21, starting from August, towards student hardship funds and mental health support. Furthermore, the Office for Students has provided up to £3 million to fund the Student Space platform to bridge gaps in mental health support for students.

Through our government taskforce, we are working closely with universities to support them with the challenges they face and to help them build capacity for students entering university in the 2020/21 academic year. We have already announced that we intend to remove the temporary student number controls as well as the normal caps on medical and dental students. We will also be making additional funding available to universities to help them take on more students.

The government and the higher education sector have agreed that all students who achieved the required grades will be offered a place at their first choice university in the 2020/21 academic year wherever possible, or if maximum capacity is reached, they will be offered an alternative course or a deferred place. In these circumstances, we have asked universities to particularly consider what they can do for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

As of 2 September, The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service figures show that a record 24,680 18-year-olds from the most disadvantaged backgrounds (POLAR4 quintile 1) in England have been accepted into university for 2020/21 – this is a record rate of 22.9%, compared to the same point last year. I also wrote to Vice Chancellors on 28 August, confirming that I would work with higher education providers in the coming weeks to support the 2021/21 intake of students.

We are also ensuring that higher education providers have the guidance they need to ensure that their provision is COVID-19 secure. We will continue to work with the sector to support them with the current challenges that providers might face as well as to deliver on this year’s admission cycle and to allow the sector to access the government support on offer as needed.

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