The government is to fund additional places at medical schools in England after its U-turn on A-level results caused an unprecedented grade uplift and a sharp rise in the number of students qualifying for places.
Officials said on Wednesday that ministers would authorise the release of funds to allow more students to train as doctors as well as dropping a cap this year that normally restricts the number of medical school places.
The decision is aimed at relieving pressure on medical schools who found themselves faced with a funding shortfall and a lack of facilities should they be given the go-ahead to admit more students.
On Thursday, Ofqual, the education regulator, will publish a national summary of the impact of the U-turn on A-level results on the same day that pupils receive their teacher-assessed GCSE grades. Universities will, however, have to wait longer for each applicant’s A-level results.
The Medical Schools Council said it was “delighted” money had been identified, but it was still awaiting details and warned some students may not get a place this year.
Katie Petty-Saphon, the council’s chief executive, said her members would “do everything possible to facilitate the increased number of students now eligible to study medicine, but until the precise numbers are known it is impossible to say how many will have to defer.”
Universities were this week thrown into chaos by the government U-turn on exam results as more students became eligible for places at top universities than admissions officers had anticipated.
The unexpected decision prompted education secretary Gavin Williamson to drop a limit on the number of students each university could take. The move also left less-competitive universities at risk of losing students to institutions that had been their original first choice.
Ultra-competitive medical courses, where places are limited by both the government-imposed cap and limited numbers of work placements and specialist facilities, faced the biggest squeeze. The MSC estimates an additional 1,600 to 2,000 extra students could qualify for a medical school place this year.
Dr Andrew Goddard, president of the Royal College of Physicians, said a shortfall in doctors being trained in the UK meant an increase in medical school places “should have been on the agenda anyway”.
He said the funding was particularly welcome for disadvantaged students and those who were sitting A-levels next year, who would have been negatively affected if thousands of students had had to defer.
But he warned the expansion of medical school places should not be done in an “uncontrolled” way, adding: “There has to be strategy and planning.”
Representatives from the sector on Wednesday met universities minister Michelle Donelan as part of a “higher education task force” convened in response to the chaos around A-levels.
They are pushing for funding beyond medicine for all universities facing an increase in student numbers, particularly in other healthcare courses such as nursing. The sector is also pushing for financial support for those institutions that could lose students.
“The government should invest urgently in the capacity of universities to boost the number of places they can safely offer,” said Greg Walker, chief executive of Million Plus, which represents post-1992 universities.
The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service said 15,000 students who had last week been rejected by their first-choice university now met the conditions of their offer based on predicted grades.
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