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Admissions, the Virus & Widening Access

Posted on: May 21, 2020

We have pulled together some materials specifically around the coronavirus pandemic and its impact on admissions to HE in 2020. We are adding to these regularly so do check back.

Annette Hayton raises a number of critical points about admissions to HE and widening access during the Coronavirus crisis in this short video presentation:


Admissions, Coronavirus & Widening Access - Annette Hayton, NERUPI Convenor. Apr 2020

You can read the edited transcript here: Nerupi Admissions 2020

As many of us struggle to come to terms with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the disruption has been profound for those post-16 students expecting to take their A Levels and BTECs this summer - and may be particularly felt by students from under-represented groups. Now it is likely that their futures will be decided by predicted grades and teacher judgement rather than the formal examinations they were expecting to take. Admissions offices in higher education providers across the UK are reviewing their carefully laid plans and systems to work out the best way forward.

NERUPI Members - we are keen to have your thoughts on these issues as well as your suggestions for any content we could add here. You can comment on Annette's blog:

Admissions, the Virus and Widening Access Blogpost

or as always, you can email us at

Assessing the Impact of School Closure - a Rapid Response Report from the University of Exeter Centre For Social Mobility.

This study was designed as rapid response research. It aims to assess the perceptions of widening participation practitioners in universities and Uni Connect partnerships on how the closure of schools as a result of the social isolation measures enforced due to the Covid-19 pandemic on 20th March 2020 will impact on young people in compulsory education, and affect the work of widening participation practitioners in supporting progression to Higher Education (HE). Little is known about the social, well-being, developmental, and academic consequences of school closure, although there are concerns that inequalities will deepen. The research aims to describe and assess the effects of school closures, propose rapid policy interventions to mitigate any expected negative effects, and to describe recommendations for the widening participation professional communities.

Download report: Implications of school closure

Further information is available on the Centre for Social Mobility website.

Warning to Education Secretary re: Bias in Grade Predictions and Teacher Assessment

Experts have come together to write to Gavin Williamson Education Secretary, urging him to ensure that GCSE and A-level grades based on teacher assessment are not biased against pupils from disadvantaged or ethnic minority backgrounds.

The letter, initiated by racial equality think tank The Runnymede Trust, has been signed by 21 education and equality academics and experts including NERUPI's Annette Hayton. It was sent to Mr Williamson following the recent announcement that GCSEs and A levels were cancelled for this year, with pupils to be awarded "calculated" grades based on teacher assessment, prior attainment and other data.

Letter to Education Secretary re: Teacher Assessments and Bias

You may also be interested in this thoughtful article by Karis Campion on the WonkHE blog about how this crisis might exarcebate the differential outcomes in admissions, attainment and graduate employment for Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) students:

Universities must not forget about bame students

Contextual Admissions

In the first few minutes of the following video (Office for Students event, May 2019), Professor Vikki Boliver outlines the case the contextual admissions and why this approach does not set students up to fail but in fact promotes fairer access:

YouTube: Vikki Boliver: Contextual Admissions video

The link to Vikki's article on this topic is in the list below under Articles.

NERUPI Network members can additionally access Vikki's longer presentation on contextual admissions given at our event in January 2020 in our Members' Area. You can find other relevant presentations and case studies here also:

NERUPI Members: NERUPI Event: Admissions, Choice & Student Diversity

If you are a member of staff at a NERUPI member organisation and don't have or have forgotten your login details, please email us: Contact the NERUPI team

Other Articles

Vikki Boliver, Stephen Gorard and Nadia Siddiqui: Using contextual data to widen access to higher education (journal article, 2019)

THES article: Bring back student number controls VC says - Anna McKie

Richard Murphy & Gill Wyness: The impact of predicted grades on university admissions of disadvantaged groups (paper, 2020)

Guardian article: Covid-19 has made universities' financial forecasts redundant - Jonathan Wolff

Guardian opinion piece by Professor David Latchman, CBE, Master of Birkbeck, University of London: To stop poorer students giving up on university, we must offer them places now

Useful Links: Coronavirus and Admissions

Ofqual notice on awarding of GCSEs, AS & A levels, Summer 2020

Letter from Nicola Dandridge, OfS (4 Apr 2020): Offer making 2020 - Moratorium on unconditional and changed offers

Coronavirus update for higher education providers in Wales

Office for Students Coronavirus general guidance for providers

Office for Students guidance on unconditional offer-making

Coronavirus updates from Universities UK

Coronavirus updates from UCAS