Durham University saw a drastic increase in undergraduate and postgraduate students deferring their applications to study at the University for the 2021- 22 academic year, according to data obtained in a Freedom of Information request by Palatinate.
280 undergraduate students and 725 postgraduates deferred their applications to study at Durham for the 2020-21 academic year, compared to 485 undergraduates and 1,615 postgraduates for 2021-22.
The data includes all undergraduate and postgraduate applicants who deferred their year of entry, regardless of what stage their application was at. Therefore the data includes applicants who had not received a decision on their application, as well as offer holders and applicants who had been accepted following their results.
The University told Palatinate that “the level of deferrals recorded is a direct result of the impacts of the global pandemic”.
A number of measures have been put in place to allow applicants to progress to Durham despite Covid-19. In August 2020, the University announced a ‘deferral bursary’ for undergraduate offer holders who met their Durham offer after they were awarded increased grades through the Centre Assessed Grades process last summer. The bursary came in the form of discounts on college accommodation fees up to the value of £1,500, based on a student’s household income.
Recipients of the bursary with an annual household income below £25,000 will receive the maximum discount of £1,500, while those between £25,000 and £42,500 will receive £1,000 off their accommodation fees.
Students with a household income above £42,500 will receive the minimum £500 discount. This bursary discount or ‘”Transition Support” fund will be offered in addition to the Durham Grant.
For undergraduates, UCAS changed its admissions process to allow applicants to take up Autumn resits. This allowed applicants until January 2021 – the standard deadline would have been 31st August 2020 – to meet the terms of their offer, with a deferred place at their firm and insurance universities held until those results were published.
UCAS also allowed students to make an additional 2021 entry application and have two live applications for two different cycles open simultaneously until January 2021. This offered applicants the opportunity to make informed choices in exceptional circumstances and was a move supported by universities.
Of those applicants who were granted a deferred entry as part of these arrangements, some remain active whilst others have opted for alternative arrangements of their own choosing.
The University disclosed a list of “legitimate reasons for not being able to meet the requirements”, which include the inability to sit examinations due to ill health related to Covid-19 or self-isolation requirements, severe financial hardship caused by furloughing or redundancies, and the late awarding of qualifications.
“For undergraduates, we have a policy of accepting deferred applications up to and not exceeding 15% of the places available overall or in individual departments for the following year so the most recent cohort of applicants (applying in the following cycle) are not disadvantaged.
“We have never come close to meeting or exceeding that threshold, including last cycle. That is to say that the requests to defer from 2020 to 2021 for UG applicants did not meet or exceed our 15% threshold. As a result, all such requests could be comfortably accommodated.
“For postgraduates, our policy is generally not to defer offers but to defer applications. This ensures that all applicants who request a deferral and all those applying afresh in the following cycle are considered together and in competition, providing equal access to offers for all regardless of year of application.
“Last year was, in many respects, a remarkable year but there was also much about it that was the same or similar to any other admissions cycle.
They continued, “Wherever possible, we take account of individual circumstances and do our very best to adapt to fit the needs of individuals where it is appropriate to do so.
“We do practice contextual admissions, which means we do try to identify any barriers to participation wherever they exist and to mitigate for these. In that sense, the last cycle was no different to any other.
“The global pandemic is just one example of a barrier that required an agile admissions process to facilitate progression to Durham. There have been many others over the years but perhaps what was unique about this one was it was global, rather than individual or regional, in nature.
“We were therefore able to take a proactive approach to supporting and facilitating our applicants.”
“Amongst the measures we instigated was a willingness to encourage requests for deferral where it was not possible for applicants to meet the required entry criteria.”
The financial incentive offered by Durham University to defer from 2020-21 to 2021-22 was only offered to undergraduate offer holders who were awarded increased grades through the Centre Assessed Grades process last summer that meant they then met their Durham offer.
90 applicants in this situation deferred their entry to 2021-22, although it is impossible to identify those that did this as a result of the financial incentive against those that chose to defer their offer for alternative reasons.
Due to applicants holding multiple offers across the world, many of these numbers will not manifest in students next year. Students may decide to accept offers from other universities and this is especially true for international students, who are not picked up by the UCAS records.
Image: Beatrice Law