With the UK Government’s move to “delaying” the impact of the coronavirus Covid-19 rather than ‘”containing” it, as a sector we need to start developing fair and equitable strategies now for how we deal with applications during confirmation and clearing.
Mock examinations in the UK compulsory sector have been taking place around now – at the time students will be sitting their final examinations, Covid-19 is expected to be at its height. The two top countries from where we draw most of our European and international students – China and Italy – have been dramatically affected with schools and universities already being closed.
Our confirmation and clearing strategies need to address how we are going to deal with the following issues. It is potentially a minefield – but if we don’t get it right, it could result in a swathe of complaints and also a reduction in student numbers entering higher education in 2020. Remember, we are already facing a 2 per cent decline in the UK 18 year old population in 2020.
Applicants who may not have been affected themselves but who have a family member that has resulting in home quarantine and non-school attendance prior to the examinations.
If students miss out on vital revision classes, it will impact on their results. Students undertaking qualifications that are only by examination could fair worse than those by coursework only. At least the coursework provides some sort of record of academic achievement.
Applicants, who due to quarantine requirements or illness, are unable to sit their examinations or complete their coursework assessment.
At present, although the advice is that children appear to be less affected by the virus than adults, it isn’t clear about those who are in their late teens. It is likely that a number of our applicants will be unable to sit their examinations due to quarantine requirements or illness meaning they will have no qualifications. This is highly likely to be the case for some of our European and international students.
For both of these scenarios, we could guided by the mock results. But this won’t take account of the mocks sometimes being a wake up call for students who end up doing far better in their final exams. Do we accept the predicted grades which we know are not accurate across the board? Or will we require applicants to sit the examinations before they are allowed entry which could result in a year’s delay? All penalise the applicant. However, as most applications are now in, using predicted grades seems the most pragmatic option especially as we have data on the accuracy of predicted grades to help guide us.
Wellbeing and readiness on entry
Whether mock results or predicted grades are used, we will need to think carefully about how we support the students who have been affected when they enter HE. If students haven’t been able to sit examinations or attend revisions classes, we need to ensure that students are able to engage in these types of activities prior to any formal assessment because lack of experience is likely to lead to failure. Ironically, this may very well also help students whose pre-entry qualifications are primarily by coursework and have limited or no experience of sitting examinations. We also need to monitor our students carefully and identify those who are struggling and offer appropriate support and guidance.
The panic about the virus across social media and the news is extensive. What is uncertain is how the fear that is currently being generated is going to impact on the wellbeing of our incoming students and our ability to help them confidently settle into their studies. So monitoring the progression of students who have been accepted on mock results or predicted grades would be useful – not only help them but also to feed into the current UK admissions debate.