Response to Post-U-Turn Uni Statement

Following the UK Government’s U-Turn on A-level results, Cambridge University has recently released a statement announcing their revised admissions policy (1). In addition to the applicants with a place already confirmed, offer-holders who missed their offers due to ‘standardisation’ will now be admitted if their Centre-Assessed Grades (CAGs) meet the conditions of their offer. We welcome the University’s clarifications in light of these changes. However, as Cambridge SU we are deeply disappointed that the University’s updated policy fundamentally disregards the demands and concerns that have been articulated in the many open letters that have been published (2) over the past few days.

Firstly, the University’s latest statement does not denounce the discriminatory nature of the algorithm that was originally used to unfairly moderate results, nor does it acknowledge that reverting to CAGs fails to address the fact that disadvantaged students are more likely (3)(4) to be underpredicted in the first place. The U-turn is a welcome step, but the mental health burden of this uncertain situation on A-level students, particularly those who have been most negatively affected by this grading system, has been immense. The University and Colleges have not gone far enough to support these students.

The fact that the University will be rejecting students whose CAGs fall short of their offers demonstrates a regrettable unwillingness to proactively redress the inequalities that plague the UK education system. Disadvantaged students are not only more likely to be underpredicted by their teachers but also more likely to face difficulties and hardship if they are required to take a year out to re-sit the exams that they were unable to take this summer. This is clearly articulated in the open letter written by the Cambridge SU Class Act Campaign (5), which has received over 3,600 signatures at the time of writing. Yet the University statement makes no mention of any support (financial or otherwise) for students in this position and provides no clear guarantee that they will be accepted for 2021 admission on meeting the grades in autumn re-sits. 

The lack of flexibility and transparency regarding deferrals is also concerning, with the statement outlining that the University ‘will have to ask some students whose offers have already been confirmed to defer for a year,’ based on assessments of capacity and other ‘factors.’ We firmly believe that offer-holders should not be forced to choose between giving up their offers or deferring their entry for a year; as has been outlined, this is not an option for students from certain disadvantaged backgrounds. Forced deferral can be traumatic for students without supportive home environments and the collegiate University must act in the interest of student welfare, including for students not yet matriculated. Priority should be given to students from Widening Participation backgrounds in the allocation of available places in an acknowledgement of financial and other concerns.

While student and staff safety during the pandemic is of paramount importance, we do not believe that there is a necessary choice between safety and allowing all students who wish to take up their places in the upcoming year to do so. In fact, it is the University’s previous inflexibility regarding intermission, deferral, and remote study for new and continuing students that has contributed to the restriction of capacity. The University should look to exercise greater flexibility regarding the requests of current students to intermit, as these requests are currently met with resistance and only approved in ‘exceptional circumstances’ (6). Forcing disadvantaged students to defer their studies as a result of these rigid policies would be unfair and unjust. 

By enforcing such strict residency requirements, Colleges have evidently prioritised their profits over the safety and wellbeing of students and staff. As a result, the University has greatly exacerbated the issues surrounding accommodation capacity in light of the A-level fiasco. The SU firmly believes all students and staff must feel safe to return to work and study at the University. As colleges adjust to provide for bigger cohorts this year, concerns around safety must remain at the forefront of these conversations and inform discussions about intermission and remote learning. Additionally, the burden of providing welfare and support for returning students should not be placed solely on student representatives: Colleges must listen to the advice of J/MCR officers and the SU on how best to support the community’s return to work and study, whilst being flexible in dealing with individual concerns. 

We call on the University to:

  • Publicly condemn the standardisation model originally used by Ofqual

  • Honour the offers of all state sector and WP-flagged students as a priority

  • Adopt a flexible approach to deferrals which acknowledges the varying viability of this as an option for individual students, and which commits to financial and careers support for students who defer

  • Adopt flexible intermission and ‘leave to work away’ policies based on individual students’ wishes to address immediate issues of restricted capacity 

  • Provide support (financial and otherwise) for students who are re-sitting exams and guarantees of a place in 2021 for those who meet their original offer

  • Provide transparent health and safety procedures in consultation with J/MCRs, students and staff to ensure that the University community feels safe returning, living and working across the University and colleges

  • Support the NUS and UCU joint statement (7), in acknowledgement of the injustices inherent within our education system, and commit to addressing barriers to access 

We thank and admire the over 18,000 current and former students who have joined the calls for Cambridge and its Colleges to honour the offers made to state sector and WP-flagged students. As the Students’ Union, we will continue to work alongside those students and alumni who have been mobilising in support of offer-holders who have been affected by the downgrading process.

Additional note: if you are an offer-holder who has met your conditions through your CAGs and are concerned about the impact that deferral until 2021 could have on you, we encourage you to inform the college that made you an offer as soon as possible.

  1. https://www.cam.ac.uk/coronavirus/news/statement-on-undergraduate-admissions-18-august-2020 

  2. https://www.varsity.co.uk/news/19720 

  3. https://www.facebook.com/CambridgeBME/posts/1432584276951706 

  4. https://covidcohort.realrating.co.uk/documents/Sample-Grades-Evaluation-REALrating-CovidCohort.pdf

  5. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1kyHeVxHdZPo0KcJC7MTnsf026bpc396STKbyC_ho1w0/preview?fbclid=IwAR2_3Z0XauMSwrh7AnPj1qmkETNo27TRDaQbMOtQF9C3BwOAJ2j6txUDnCg&pru=AAABdBF_qRQ*Qgy8xCkQksZUdmKikB5jhg 

  6. https://www.cam.ac.uk/coronavirus/students/guidance-for-all-students/advice-on-exceptional-circumstances 

  7. https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/10937/NUS-and-UCU-joint-statement-of-solidarity-with-students-after-results-fiasco?list=1676