Government lifts cap on medical, dentistry and veterinary schools

The Department for Education announced yesterday (20th August) that the cap on places in medicine, dentistry and veterinary science degrees will be lifted for all domestic students in England with the requisite grades.

Students who initially thought that they had lost their places due to Ofqual’s downgrading of their teacher-estimated A-level results will now be able to attend their first choice of university after all.

The government is also granting additional funding to universities to help them absorb the additional student numbers for these specialist subjects this year.

Many colleges had already filled this year’s quota of places before affected A-level students received their upwardly revised grades.

The development is the outcome of intensive collaboration between the higher education sector and the government over the last few days.

A plan has now been unveiled to ensure that students with the requisite A-level grades for their medical, dental or veterinary studies can progress to their chosen university.

Some students may yet find that they will have to defer their undergraduate studies in these specialisms until next year, however.

The Higher Education Taskforce has agreed to honour all offers to students who have met the grade conditions accompanying them “wherever possible”.

However, when maximum capacity is reached, those unable to be absorbed will be offered an alternative course or a deferral to next year.

To accommodate as many students as possible this year, ministers have now lifted the cap on the previously strictly limited number of medical, veterinary and dentistry training places.

Undergraduate teacher training courses are also included.

The move is in response to calls from university vice-chancellors and doctors to lift the placement limits this year.

The conditions under which this year’s students obtained their A-level results were marked by unprecedented educational disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Matters were compounded when it became clear that the exam regulator’s algorithmic national moderation process had significantly, and possibly unfairly, depressed the centre assessment grades (CAGs) based on teacher assessments of pupils’ previous educational performance.

Thousands of students found that they were awarded marks below those required by their conditional offers from universities, but then belatedly received the requisite grades after the government was forced to ditch the moderation process and revert to CAGs.

By that time, universities had offered their places to other applicants with the necessary grades.

According to the universities admissions body UCAS, 15,000 students who were rejected by their first-choice universities before the grading U-turn now fully meet their offer conditions.

Despite the lifting of the cap, the higher education lobbying group Universities UK remains concerned that “significant challenges” remain.

CEO Alistair Jarvis 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.”

The chief executive of the elite Russell Group of universities, Dr Tim Bradshaw, welcomed the government’s move to suspend placement caps as “a very positive step” and said that admissions crews were now “working around the clock”.

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