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Students ‘more likely than usual’ to defer this year

Image: Tero Vesalainen, via Shutterstock

Survey results point to increased deferrals and busiest clearing process yet

The number of students who are now likely to defer going to university this autumn even if institutions are operating as usual is 13.3 per cent, according to a survey—up from 5 to 6 per cent in normal years—and this rises to 28 per cent if universities are “not operating normally” by the start of term.

According to calculations by the University and College Union and London Economics, which commissioned the polling firm YouthSight to survey 516 students who had applied to a UK university this year, this means “an additional 17 per cent of prospective students will not enrol in higher education in September 2020 if universities are not operating as usual”.

While it is unclear how the coronavirus pandemic will affect university teaching in the 2020-21 academic year, some institutions—such as the University of Manchester—have confirmed that they will teach online, at least for the first term. 

The survey also asked how likely students were to switch universities during clearing. On average, there was a 25 per cent chance that those surveyed would consider switching institution.

The UCU warned that “a summer of unnecessary competition for students, at a time when universities already faced record deferrals and financial problems, could lead to some institutions becoming financially unstable”.

Jo Grady, general secretary of the union, said: “With aspiring students now very worried about what will happen in the autumn, it is time for the government to underwrite higher education and provide the support it needs to guarantee survival.

“The current ‘wait and see’ approach from ministers is exacerbating the crisis for prospective students and putting tens of thousands of jobs at universities and in the wider economy at risk. Without decisive action now, deferral rates will continue to rise and damaging competition to try and secure students still intending to study will intensify.”

A record 73,320 students used clearing last year, according to UCAS. If 25 per cent of students do decide to go down that route this year, the number will be almost double that.