Half-level A: medical schools call for an increase in student places

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Ministers are under pressure to lift the limit on the number of places to study medicine in England, after changes this week to A-level results.

The number of students studying to become doctors is regulated due to the cost and planning of the NHS workforce.

But universities fear that without the relaxed seat cap and financial support, they may not be able to accommodate all students with the necessary grades.

The education secretary apologized for the distress caused by the U-turn.

It is the latest issue raised by the government’s decision on Monday to change the way exam scores are assigned, following strong criticism from students, teachers and some Tory MPs.

The decision to give A-level and GCSE students ratings estimated by their teachers, rather than an algorithm, means that thousands of A-level students can now have the grades to redeem for their premier academic offerings.

In a letter to Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, seen by the BBC, Universities UK asked for “urgent assurances” that he was speaking to the Department of Health about increasing the ceiling for medical students.

Although the cap on the overall number of students has been raised, places in medical schools remain limited as the costs of training doctors far exceed the fees paid by undergraduates.

The letter went on to say: ‘The role of universities in training medical personnel is essential for all regions and countries in the UK, as our members’ response to the Covid-19 pandemic clearly shows. ”

He also called more broadly for “significant financial support” from the government as students would have to change courses after obtaining higher grades.

The body, which represents 137 institutions across the UK, said if changing the grading method was the right decision it would lead to grade inflation, meaning universities with entry requirements weaker ones would face a drop in the course participation rate and hence. require financial assistance.


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Media legendGavin Williamson says his goal is to “make sure every student gets the grades they deserve”

The letter also asked for clarification on how the increase in student numbers could be handled alongside social distancing measures and advice on how to deal with a larger number of applicants with the required grades than the places available.

Professor Jenny Higham, Director of St George’s Faculty of Medicine at the University of London, told the BBC Newsnight: “Medicine is both a very practical discipline and also requires a great deal of clinical and practical experience and, therefore, the clinical placement capacity must also be increased. ”

The pandemic has prevented current students from conducting their clinical studies, which means there is a backlog in places, she said.

Professor Higham added that this was an expensive topic with courses funded by additional government payments as well as tuition and the need to pay for clinical placements.

The BBC has requested a response from the Department of Health.

Tory MP Sir John Redwood told Newsnight any changes must also be fair for the class of 2021 and ‘catch up with the class of 2020’, with next year’s cohort needing to be secured places if they get the necessary grades.

On Tuesday, Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said she wanted to ensure that all students who accepted a “different course” from the one planned, following a demotion last week, could “change their mind and cancel this decision “.

She said No 10 was working with universities to help “increase available capacity” to “minimize the number of students who will seek to defer.”

Ministers from England, Northern Ireland and Wales all decided on Monday – four days after the release of A-level results – to revert to teacher-assessed grades rather than the algorithm. Scotland returned to teacher-assessed grades on August 4 after facing a similar reaction.

The move sparked a scramble for college places as students tried to reclaim places at universities from which they were rejected last week.

However, top universities have warned that students who now have higher grades may still be asked to defer if there is no more room in their chosen course.

Chaos and uncertainty have led school and college leaders to call for an urgent review.

“This level of transparency is needed at a time when public confidence has been seriously shaken,” said Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders.

Mr Barton also called on No 10 and Ofqual to put in place a ‘robust contingency plan’ for GCSE and A-level students next summer in the event of a new coronavirus-related disruption.

Meanwhile, students will receive their GCSE results on Thursday as scheduled, the Joint Qualifications Council (JCQ) said.

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