Students paid £1,259,500 to tackle oversubscription

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Durham University paid out a total of £1,259,500 to students to manage the cohort size after A-Level results were released in August 2021.

The University gave 429 incoming students £500 to reallocate their college, while 209 others agreed to take £5000 for deferring their place on an oversubscribed course.

Incoming students on courses such as Classics, English Studies, History, Music, Biosciences, Psychology, Management, and Geography were offered a £5000 payment, as well as the guarantee of their college of choice if they agreed to defer for 2022/2023 entry. In September 2021 the offer was extended to those who met their offer for Computer Science, Law, Liberal Arts, Natural Sciences, Physics, PPE, and Primary Education.

As well as offering £500 cash payments for college reallocations, the University also sought to disperse students more evenly through private accommodation. For example, some Collingwood freshers were placed in Rushford Court, a self-catered Unite Students building, located a half an hour walk from Colingwood College.

44.8% of students received A* and A grades in 2021. This was an almost 75% increase from 2019 – the last time conventional exams took place – when 25.2% of students received A and A* grades. It was also an increase on 2020’s unprecedented results when 38.5% of students achieved top grades.

As a result, figures released by UCAS reveal that a record 396,000 students had their first choice course confirmed: an 8% increase from 2020.

Durham had a similar scheme in 2020 when students who met their offer were offered deferral bursaries of up to 1,500 – however, these could only be used to discount college accommodation costs.

Schools were able to use a range of evidence for the grades awarded including coursework and mock exams. One in five schools had a sample of their grades checked by exam boards, of which 15% were queried but only 1% were ultimately altered.

The University gave 429 incoming students £500 to reallocate their college

A-Level examinations were cancelled on the 4th January 2021, as England entered a nationwide lockdown and the schools were closed.

Paul Whiteman, the leader of the National Association of Head Teachers, rejected these grades being characterised as “grade inflation”, stating that “the results in 2021 cannot be easily compared to any other year”.

The policy was criticised at the time by Durham Students’ Union. Both academic officers, Declan Merrington and Charlie Proctor, said that the University’s policy to try and reduce the size of the incoming cohort through offering payments for deferral was a “poor decision” using money “from current student fees to spend on mitigating the extent of overcrowding”.

A Durham University spokesperson said: “The measures undertaken in August 2021 were in response to unprecedented student success.

“All of our colleges are thriving communities of staff and students from all our subject areas.

“We determined college allocation in order to be fair to all students.

“The University is paying for the deferral scheme from its agreed operating budget for the current financial year. We have made and are making significant investments in academic departments and colleges to increase staff and other resources, including student welfare.”

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