Government agrees to fund extra medical places in England

Numbers caps lifted for medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and teacher training courses in wake of A-levels fiasco

August 20, 2020
medical students
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The government has announced that it has lifted the cap on medicine, dentistry, veterinary science and teaching courses for the next year in England and promised extra funding for high-cost subjects, plus agreed with universities on the need to honour course offers.

The announcement comes after universities and the Medical Schools Council warned that courses for these subjects, whose numbers are tightly controlled by the government, had already been filled when A-level results were initially announced. It meant that even after the government’s U-turn allowing students to use their centre-assessed grades, many students would miss out on their place, despite now making the required grades.

In a statement, the Department for Education said it also had agreed with higher education bodies that universities must be able to honour all offers across courses to students who meet their conditions this coming year wherever possible. If maximum capacity has been reached, universities should offer an alternative course or a deferred place.

Therefore the government had lifted the cap on controlled subjects and would make additional teaching grant funding available “to increase capacity in medical, nursing, STEM and other high-cost subjects which are vital to the country’s social needs and economy”.

England’s universities minister, Michelle Donelan, wanted to reassure students “that every effort is being made to make sure all those who planned to can move on to higher education”.

“This pandemic has highlighted more than ever the importance of our fantastic healthcare services and the need to invest in them,” she said. “So I am pleased we are removing the cap on these courses and providing additional funding so more students can take up their places now and become our future doctors and healthcare professionals. We are working closely with universities to support them, helping them to be flexible for students.”

According to the latest Ucas data, 76 per cent of 18-year-olds in England are currently placed at either their firm or insurance choice of university. Ucas calculated that 15,000 students who were originally rejected by their original firm choice university with their moderated grades will now meet the A-level conditions of their offer with their teacher-assessed grades.

Experts have warned that this may lead to lower-tariff universities losing out, as students who now have higher grades look to trade up.

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, said he welcomed the additional medicine and dentistry places, as well as the additional teaching grant for high-cost subjects, but added that the government “now needs to urgently confirm funding both to ensure the financial stability of institutions suffering from a loss of students and to offer further support to maintain and build capacity where needed”.

“The policy U-turn on A levels has created significant challenges for universities caused by late movement of students between institutions,” he said. “Universities and their admissions teams are doing everything they can to accommodate students on their first choice course and where this is not practically possible, to advise on and offer other opportunities, such as a deferred place for next year or a suitable alternative course. The priority must be to support students.”

Tim Bradshaw, chief executive of the Russell Group, also welcomed the news on medical and other high-cost courses.  

“Russell Group universities are working with government and will do everything they can to accommodate as many students as possible on their preferred courses this year and will continue to do so wherever this is practically possible. Where this isn’t possible, our universities will look to offer deferred places or explore places on alternative courses where the student meets the entry requirements,” he said.

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