Universities could face legal action from A-level students

Universities could face legal action from A-level students if they have to defer a place for a year after receiving an offer, say lawyers

  • Thousands of students are scrambling to get places at first choice university 
  • A number of top schools have already said students may have to defer to 2021
  • Lawyers said that universities could now face legal action as a consequence 

Lawyers have warned that students could take legal action against universities if they have to defer for a year after receiving an offer.

Thousands of students are scrambling to get places at their first choice university after a government U-turn means they can use their teacher assessed grades rather than the ones given to them by a standardised algorithm last Thursday. 

However a number of top universities, such as Cambridge, have already warned that they may not have capacity to take all the extra students, and some may have to defer their place until 2021.

Suzanne Rab, a barrister at Serle Court Chambers, told The Times: ‘I think there will be legal action by some to force universities to take them this year. You’re looking ultimately at a judicial review.’

A judicial review questions the decisions made by public bodies and normally claim that a government minister made a a mistake in law. 

Since the government u-turn 55,000 students are trying to get into their first choice institution. But schools are struggling for capacity, despite the government lifting a cap on the amount of places they can offer.

An A-level student holds a placard during a protest about the exam results at the constituency offices of Gavin Williamson

There have also been calls today for ministers to lift restrictions on places for medicine and dentistry, which are currently set by the government.

Tina Patel, a personal injury lawyer for Leigh Day, told the newspaper: ‘We have been inundated with inquiries from students who despite yesterday’s announcement have been left no better off.

‘Whilst the government has lifted the cap on the number of students universities can accept, the ultimate decision lies with the individual universities. 

‘Some students may be offered places this year; some may be required to defer for a year and be forced to take a year out. This poses difficulties in the current economic climate.’

It comes as Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is under intense pressure after he was forced to abandon the algorithm-based system for awarding A-level and GCSE grades in England. 

Boris Johnson, who is currently on holiday, has so far resisted calls to come back and deal with the exams fiasco.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is under intense pressure after he was forced to abandon the algorithm-based system for awarding A-level and GCSE grades in England

But this morning Health Secretary Matt Hancock defended his fellow Cabinet minister, saying that he is focused on trying to get all children back to school for the new term after their education was disrupted by coronavirus closures.

‘These are unprecedented circumstances and I think everybody is working their hardest and trying to do their best in very difficult circumstances, and I know that is true of Gavin Williamson as it is of all members of the Government,’ he told Sky News.

‘The big focus is on getting schools back and open at the start of next month, an incredibly important task.

‘I don’t think we should be distracted from that task now. We need to absolutely focus on it.’

Mr Hancock also said ministers are working on concerns raised by universities and the Royal College of GPs (RCGP) about medical education.

RCGP chairman Martin Marshall warned that, despite Monday’s U-turn, many would-be medics will have lost their places on courses after universities started handing out spots based on students’ original results.

The RCGP estimates the UK needs 20% more undergraduate medical places to serve the growing population, and wants caps on student numbers lifted as well as extra funding for universities to help meet demand.

Universities UK also called for ‘increasing flexibilities within the medical student numbers cap’.

The Health Secretary said: ‘We’re doing everything that we can and we’re working on this issue right now.

‘I acknowledge the issue, I absolutely recognise it.’

Meanwhile, universities have said they need extra cash from the Government as students change courses after being awarded higher grades.   

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