Among those affected by the disruptions of the pandemic have been students making university applications amidst the uncertainty of exams, assessments and online learning at university.
In the higher education admissions cycle for 2021, deferrals hit the highest level in a decade. UCAS, provider of the admissions service, reported that over 16,800 students deferred their entry to university to 2022, an increase of over 33% from the year before.
A major reason for this was the likely prospect of having to start freshers’ year sitting behind a screen. Due to the rise of Covid cases, many universities opted to keep courses online.
Many institutions also encouraged students to defer after facing oversubscribed places due to CAG/TAG grade inflation. An unprecedented number of students achieved A or A* across a wide range of subjects and more applicants than usual achieved the grades for their firm choice university.
To deal with the unprecedented demand for places, some institutions offered students incentives to defer their entry. The University of Exeter offered a £10,000 fee reduction and free accommodation for medical students to defer entry. The University of Leeds offered similar incentives for law students.
Because of grade inflation, most of the oversubscribed places were at the top universities, leaving universities with lower entry requirements actively looking to recruit students.
An additional problem for applicants in 2021 was that there were very few places available in clearing for students to apply to if they did not get a place at their first or second choice universities. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute said: “Normally they would let you in anyway, and this year they are just not doing that so much,” he said. “Or normally you would go to clearing, and then this year they are not in clearing.”
The end result of deferrals and oversubscribed places means greater pressure on current Sixth Form pupils making applications for 2022, particularly for medicine courses where places are capped. Applicants have been advised to be “cautious and realistic” with their applications and insurance choices.