The UK government is funding additional places at medical schools © Les Gibbon/Alamy

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All students in England who have secured the required A-level grades will receive their first choice of university and course, the government has promised, after its U-turn on results led to a sharp rise in the number of people qualifying for places.

Ministers said places would be made available either this year or next for those who have seen their results upgraded after an algorithm to determine marks was abandoned. The government has also lifted a cap on student numbers in England for medicine, veterinary science, dentistry and teaching courses.

“I am delighted that the government and the higher education sector have agreed that all students who achieved the required grades will be offered a place at their first-choice university,” said Michelle Donelan, the universities minister. “I want universities to do all they can to take them on this year or offer alternative courses or deferred places where required.”

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, which represents 137 institutions, warned that the policy U-turn on A-levels had created “significant challenges” for universities because of the late movement of students between institutions.

“Government now needs to urgently confirm funding both to ensure the financial stability of institutions suffering from a loss of students and to offer further support to maintain and build capacity where needed,” he said.

Universities were trying to accommodate students on their first choice course, Mr Jarvis said, adding that “where this is not practically possible, [they will] advise on and offer other opportunities, such as a deferred place for next year or a suitable alternative course”.

The government has pledged to fund additional places at medical schools and provide additional teaching grant funding to “increase capacity” in medical, nursing, science, engineering and other high-cost subjects.

The move is designed to relieve pressure on universities that may find themselves faced with a funding shortfall and insufficient facilities after admitting more students.

In a statement on Thursday, ministers confirmed it would release funding for extra medical places and teaching grants but did not disclose any figures. Officials said amounts would be dependent on how many students were enrolled on to courses.

The government U-turn on exam results this week prompted education secretary Gavin Williamson to drop a limit on the number of students each university could take.

But ultra-competitive medical courses, where places have previously been limited by both the government-imposed cap and limited numbers of work placements and specialist facilities, faced the biggest squeeze.

Under the changes, the Medical Schools Council estimates an additional 1,600 to 2,000 extra students could qualify for a medical school place this year, on top of the almost 7,400 existing places.

Students who receive grades that meet the conditions of their original offer have been told to contact their preferred university and “self-release” through UCAS in order to opt for their first choice.

“This pandemic has highlighted more than ever the importance of our fantastic healthcare services and the need to invest in them”, said Ms Donelan.

“So I am pleased we are removing the cap on these courses and providing additional funding so more students can take up their places now. We are working closely with universities to support them, helping them to be flexible for students.” 

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