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A Levels in 2021

Students taking A levels in the summer of 2021 experienced the most disruption to their studies due to the coronavirus pandemic. In response, the Government allowed a reduction in course curriculums, and, for the second year running, summer exams were cancelled. Final grades were awarded based on teacher or centre assessment of student performance.

In 2021, 44.3% of A-level entries in England were awarded A* or A. This was a 6.2 percentage point rise compared to 2020’s results and a 19.1 percentage point increase compared with the pre-pandemic exam results of 2019.

Impact on universities

A record number of 18-year-olds from the UK have been accepted by universities in 2021. The number of placed 18-year-olds was up by 19,000 or 7% by 7 September 2021. The estimated proportion of home 18-year-olds placed by this date was 37.9% compared with 36.4% in 2020, which was a record high at the time. Overall, around 508,000 applicants had been placed by 7 September 2021, which was down by 2% on 2020. This cut in numbers was the result of the large drop in EU applicants.

The high number of acceptances from home students has led to some courses being oversubscribed. This has caused particular difficulties for medical degrees, where student numbers are constrained by the availability of clinical placements. In such cases, students have been offered incentives to move to another institution or to defer their place to next year. There have also been implications for the availability of student accommodation for new students in some institutions.

Attending university in autumn 2021

University provision has been significantly affected by the pandemic. Campuses were closed to most students during lockdowns and teaching has largely been delivered online for the last eighteen months. This unprecedented experience of higher education has prompted student complaints about a lack of support from their institutions and calls for tuition fee refunds.

The Government has made it clear there are no longer Covid-19 restrictions on in-person teaching and it is hoped most teaching will be delivered face-to-face when term starts in autumn 2021. Higher education providers (HEPs) are autonomous bodies, however. They have discretion over hcourse delivery, provided they act in the best interests of students and in accordance with published guidance.

Surveys have shown that while students recognise there are some benefits to remote learning, particularly for disabled students, a return to face-to-face teaching is a priority for many in the autumn. Most universities have said they will adopt a ‘blended learning’ approach to delivering courses. This will entail as much teaching as possible being delivered in-person, but digital learning and online materials will also feature where appropriate.

Universities are also dealing with the issue of their students’ vaccination status and quarantine arrangements for arriving international students.

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