The University of Birmingham has become the first higher education institution to lower entry requirements for next year in recognition of the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on A-level students.
The bar for the majority of undergraduate degree programmes at the prestigious Russell Group university is being reduced by one grade.
In a move likely to place pressure on other universities to follow suit, it linked the move directly to supporting sixth-form students due to sit their exams next summer.
Degree programmes that are not included are medicine, dentistry and dental hygiene, nursing, physiotherapy, and social work, where there is external regulation, as well as the university’s foundation year and degree apprenticeship programmes.
“We recognise the need to adapt our admissions approach for this year given the extraordinary disruption affecting these students and their schools and the fact that many are likely to experience more than a year of interrupted learning by the time they sit their exams next summer,” said the university’s vice-chancellor, Prof Sir David Eastwood.
“We have considered what we can do as a university to recognise and reward potential, mitigate some of the educational challenges as result of Covid, and reduce some of the pressure on students and teachers at this challenging time. Providing greater flexibility in our admissions for 2021 entry is one such area.”
He said he hoped reducing the entry requirements would “alleviate anxieties”.
The move was welcomed by Dr Lee Elliot Major, a professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, but he said third level institutions also needed to work to lower grades for disadvantaged students, who had felt the brunt of a disproportionate impact from the pandemic.
“Even though the pandemic will have a higher impact on school pupils up and down the country, it appears that grades will actually be similar, if not better than previous years,” he said.
While universities were trying to improve social mobility, he said they were competing for the same students, and moves such as Birmingham’s had to be seen in that context.
“There is a marketplace here and I suspect that most institutions will have similar strategies. So you can see there is a competitive advantage of lowering grades.”
The University of Birmingham has said the initiative also applies to its “contextual offer-making” – where institutions take into account factors that can restrict a student’s achievement at school.
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