The University of Birmingham has made history as the first higher education establishment to revise entry criteria for the coming academic year. The move comes in response to the disruption to A-level studies wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic, and marks a significant reduction in the requirements for the majority of undergraduate degree courses. The decision is expected to set a precedent for other universities to follow.
Replacing the existing criteria with a bar that is lower by one grade, the step has been designed to aid sixth-form students as they prepare to sit exams in the summer. However, a number of degree programmes – medicine, dentistry and dental hygiene, nursing, physiotherapy and social work – are exempt due to external regulation, as are the university’s foundation year and degree apprenticeship schemes.
The university’s vice-chancellor, Prof Sir David Eastwood, acknowledged the need to adapt its own system in order to support students and schools affected by the upheaval to exams. He said: “Providing greater flexibility in our admissions for 2021 entry is one such area”, adding that he hopes reducing the entry requirements will ease some concerns and worries among students.
While the move has been welcomed by some observers, such as Dr Lee Elliot Major, a professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, others argue more needs to be done to help disadvantaged students whose progress has been particularly affected by the pandemic. It is suggested that these students – and not just those scheduled to take A-levels this year – might require greater help from the education sector.
Birmingham’s revision extends to its “contextual offer-making” policy, which allows universities to recognise when other factors in a student’s background have had an impact on their performance. By doing so, they can make allowances for these and offer places based on wider criteria than simply grades achieved.