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Russell Group universities sweep up largest share of students in record year

Russell Group universities sweep up largest share of students in record year.

Official figures show record numbers of students have been accepted at Russell Group universities this autumn, raising concerns.

After 44.8 per cent of A-level students were awarded A or A* grades, this year has seen stiff competition for places at the country’s leading universities. Figures published by the university admissions service, UCAS, showed that 432,430 had accepted a place at a university this August, a 4 per cent increase on this point last year. An analysis of the data shows that the Russell Group – known as “higher tariff” universities as they have the highest entry requirements – has gathered the largest share of students up by 14 per cent on last year, with 163,100 applicants accepting places.

Director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, Nick Hillman, said that while applications to universities had increased overall this year, it was the leading institutions that had accepted the most students. “The cake has got bigger, but an even bigger slice is going to the Russell Groups,” Mr Hillman said. “Some people were worried the lower tariff institutions would collapse. That’s not happened as there are more students to go around, but we have seen the Russell Groups increase their share. They do need to prepare for this wave of students. If any are not on the ball, the student experience could suffer as a result.” The large increase in Russell Group admissions is compared with 135,260 students going to “medium tariff” universities, a 2 per cent increase on last year, and 135,260 at “lower tariff” universities, a decrease of 2 per cent on last year.

The record numbers have strained capacity at some institutions and demand for certain courses has further stretched resources. Earlier this month students who had a place to study medicine were told they would be handed £10,000 if they agreed to move to another medical school, this “brokerage” programme was announced by the Medical Schools Council after it became clear that some universities did not have enough space to accommodate all the students who had met the terms of their offers. The Department for Education intervened last early in the month to create extra places for medical students after it became clear that more applicants would meet their offers than the cap on numbers set by the Government. Medical schools made offers last autumn before the Government said that exams would be cancelled, meaning they made more offers than they had places on the basis that some students would not get high enough grades.

The institutions are also under pressure following advice from the Government that higher education institutions should return to face-to-face teaching unless there are “unprecedented” reasons not to. the Education Secretary, Gavin Williamson, said the Government expected all universities to move back to face-to-face teaching. Speaking to Sky News, MR Williamson said: “Our guidance is clear, our direction is clear and we do expect all universities, unless there’s unprecedented reasons, to be moving back to the situation of actually delivering lessons, lectures, face to face,”. When asked if refunds should be given if that was not the case, the Education Secretary said: “I think universities have got to sort of stand up their offer to their own students. I think that they have the flexibility and the ability to deliver face-to-face lectures and expect them to be delivering face-to-face lectures. I think if universities are not delivering, not delivering what students expect, then actually they shouldn’t be charging the full fees.”

Chief executive of the Russell Group, Dr Tim Bradshaw said: “There has been unprecedented demand for places this year, but over the next few weeks Russell Group universities will be working hard to accommodate as many students as possible.” He said students could expect most seminars, small group classes and lab work, to be taught in person but warned that “an element of digital learning” would continue.

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