TSR exclusive: the universities minister explains what’s happening with this year’s university applications

In a TSR exclusive, the universities minister, Michelle Donelan, has written this article to help university applicants who have been affected by changed grades – including an update on what’s happening with honouring offers, what to do if you get a deferred offer and advice on applying for student finance.


If you are a student whose grades and potentially university place was impacted by the events of the last few weeks then I know you have been on an emotional rollercoaster.

You will know only too well what happened and how the algorithm produced some unfair anomalies which unduly affected some of your results. I want to reassure you, that as Universities Minister, my absolute focus has been working with universities to ensure that those of you who achieved the entry requirements are offered your top choice, either this year or next.

The interests of all students have been at the heart of every decision and every action that I have taken. University dreams cannot and will not be destroyed under my watch, which is why the Education Secretary asked me to set up a Taskforce with Higher Education sector representatives and together we have been delivering for you and other students.

My key goal has been to tear down any barriers in the way of universities offering additional places and supporting them as much as possible in this task. Crucially, last week we gained cross sector agreement that universities will honour first-choice places if students meet the grades, or where capacity is an issue, they will offer an alternative course or a deferred place.

One of the first actions we took was to announce our intention to lift the student number caps to unlock more places. Alongside this, we are providing additional funding for courses that cost more for universities to run including medicine and nursing, helping more young people enter the NHS at this incredibly important time and supporting universities to accommodate more students.

Now I know that this leaves some of you still uncertain over where you will be going and potentially when - but confirmation is on its way. Universities received the new grades last week and are currently making decisions based on their work with us to build extra capacity.

A number of universities have already issued additional places, and some have decided that they can honour all offers this year. The best thing you can do now is contact your preferred university to discuss options. Don’t worry if you can’t get through straight away, university admissions teams are doing their very best to answer all enquiries but demand is high and their advice is to keep trying and/or email. It is crucial that you do this before taking any action so that you can make an informed choice about whether to self-release via UCAS.

Where capacity is a problem universities may see if you would like a very similar course as a potential solution or defer. Universities have agreed where possible to try to ensure those from disadvantaged backgrounds can obtain their place this year, so please ensure you make them aware of your circumstances.

From the outset over 65% of 18 year old, English students gained their first-choice university and this was before the work began to build additional capacity. However, universities and I want to ensure that we maximise the number of students going to their first choice and that we minimise as much as possible the number of deferred places. I must tell you that throughout this process universities really have been trying to be as flexible as possible and to accommodate as many students as they safely can do so. You are quite clearly (and rightfully) also at the heart of their decision making as well as mine.

I do know this may only sound like words if you are one of those students with a deferred offer and I am sure your mind is racing with questions over what you will do over the forthcoming year. On this I have been working across government and with the Higher Education sector on a range of interesting and rewarding options for you to choose from that will help enhance your CV and development. I look forward to sharing these with you shortly.

On another note, if you have applied for student finance but want to change your course, university or college, don’t forget to update your details on your online account at www.gov.uk/student-finance. If you have not already applied for student finance, it is important that you complete your finance application as soon as possible as it can take up to six weeks to process an application. Student Finance England will make an initial assessment, so you have some funding as close to the start of your course as possible.

If you are a student who will complete their A-levels next year and are reading this and feeling concerned that you will be disadvantaged then please rest assured that both the students of 2020 and 2021 are at the heart of my work. I am working with the sector to build capacity this year and next year so that your hard work will pay off and ensure that you are not disadvantaged by recent events.

Choosing to go to university is a huge step and one that will shape your life, so it is vitally important that students who achieved their grades are rewarded with a place they are happy with. I want to end my message by saying congratulations! Congratulations on your hard-earned results and good luck.


If you still have questions, you can join us for a live Q&A with the universities minister at 4.30pm on Thursday 3 September. Ask questions and watch the live stream here.

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