Universities warn of medicine recruitment squeeze in England

‘Return to pre-pandemic levels’ and refusal to lift cap to accommodate deferring students will limit opportunities, Russell Group warns

October 18, 2021
Male trainer is teaching a woman in scrubs how to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on a doll designed for first aid training called a CPR dummy.Both the man and the nurse are wearing latex gloves
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Students face losing out on places on medicine and dentistry courses in English universities, leading institutions have warned, after the Westminster government signalled a squeeze on recruitment.

The cap on places on these courses had been raised for the past two years as the coronavirus pandemic drove a surge in demand and disruption in admissions.

But in a letter to providers, ministers say that recruitment will need to “return to pre-pandemic levels” and that students who deferred entry from this autumn due to the competition for places will be included in next year’s quotas.

The intervention led to a warning from the Russell Group, which represents leading research-intensive universities, that restrictions on recruitment would “limit the choice and opportunities for students applying this year”.

The deadline for applications to medicine and dentistry courses closed on 15 October.

In 2019-20, 8,375 students started medicine and dentistry courses in England, but this was increased to 9,285 in 2020-21, as the cancellation of end-of-school exams drove significant grade inflation.

Details of this autumn’s intake are yet to be confirmed but, even with 9,296 places allocated, there were repeated reports of students being offered incentives to defer their places.

In their letter, universities minister Michelle Donelan and health minister Edward Argar say that “active management of medical places is critical to ensure a sustainable pipeline of doctors to the NHS across all regions of the UK. It is vital that as we move forward out of the pandemic we work together to ensure intakes for these courses are sustainable and that we return to pre-pandemic levels.”

The letter says that intake targets for 2022-23 will be confirmed by the Office for Students and that it is “vital that you ensure that you remain within this” because “these controls will not be adjusted this year under any circumstances”.

“Any students who have deferred entry from 2021 will need to be accommodated within the intake targets communicated by the OfS. No government funding will be provided for any students over and above your intake target set by the OfS,” the letter says.

The letter suggests that universities should “adjust” their offer-making strategies, for example, by “taking a staggered approach to offer-making, [or] offering no more than 100 per cent of your intake target in the first instance and then filling unfilled places through reserve lists and/or clearing”.

A Russell Group spokesman said that member universities were “disappointed the government has chosen not to increase the cap on medical and dentistry places in 2022 to accommodate deferrals from 2021”.

“Ultimately it will limit the choice and opportunities for students applying this year,” the spokesman said. “Despite the best efforts of universities to accommodate additional students last year, some deferrals were necessary given the unexpected increase in students qualifying for places with the move to teacher-assessed grades.”

The Russell Group added that the upcoming spending review was “an opportunity for government to consider how it can better support the ongoing costs of training these students”.

“Rather than restricting the ability of students applying this year to train as doctors and dentists, the government could support its long-term ambition to increase the number of doctors in the NHS by expanding and properly funding the number of training places available,” the spokesman said.

“The additional funding provided to support the ongoing costs of training those extra medical students taken on in the last two years, while welcome, falls short of what is required to cover all five years of high-quality teaching and learning.”


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Reader's comments (1)

There are lots of options out there in Europe. Good medical training, international environment and an opportunity to avoid having to work in the now defunct NHS for this propulist puppet Brexit regime.