Universities face investigation over alleged secret waiting lists for 2020 entrants

Education establishments accused of offering student places outside formal admission process and regardless of grades

The Department for Education said it would investigate and take appropriate action. Getty
The Department for Education said it would investigate and take appropriate action. Getty

Top universities face investigation and reprimand should they breach rules over pupil admissions, education authorities said.

The Office for Students regulator is looking into allegations that universities are operating secret waiting lists to encourage school leavers to accept offers of places.

The investigation comes amid growing concern that higher education institutions are adopting extreme methods to ensure they enrol sufficient numbers after a shortfall in overseas students.

With many admission offices braced for a second year of turmoil over results and grade inflation, experts are predicting record-breaking numbers of British applications for student places leading to some universities attempting to cement places for high performers.

Department for Education sources told The National they will “monitor and investigate this kind of behaviour and take the strongest possible action” to ensure that universities are “not privately letting people on to secret lists”.

Some universities were suspected of using secret lists last year after the debacle over A Level results in which an algorithm was used to formulate grades, and it was decided to go with teacher predictions when uproar ensued over the awarding of less favourable results.

This year A Levels will be based on teacher assessments and coursework leading again to grade inflation after a 38 per cent rise in A and A* grades last year.

It is reported, however, that more universities are contacting individuals outside the formal admissions process offering them places, regardless of grades.

Because these students are less likely to accept offers from perceived lesser institutions, those universities could fall short on numbers and might face financial difficulties should they fail to attract enough undergraduates to pay for tuition costs.

The DfE said it would investigate and take appropriate action. “While it is important that universities remain agile in response to the pandemic, they should ensure that they consistently put students’ best interests at the centre of their recruitment decisions,” a spokesman said. “We expect the higher education regulator, the Office for Students, to monitor the offers process and take action where appropriate.”

Oxford University told The National that it did not use waiting lists and had already made all offers for this year’s intake. “When it comes to confirmation of those offers following the release of grades in the summer, we will take an approach that is centred on the student, taking due account of the disadvantage and disruption that many have suffered,” a representative said.

Greater competition will come for places as, after last year’s recording breaking 371,000 new British undergraduates, an extra 50,000 school leavers are predicted this year as a result of grade inflation, a difficult job market and changing demographics.

An uptake of British students is likely to make up for shortfalls elsewhere with the pandemic and Brexit leading to a predicted 40 per cent drop in overseas students. The head of admissions for University College London said that while the institution did not operate waiting lists it was being careful in making offers after being overwhelmed last year.

Updated: March 1, 2021 10:30 PM

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