Exeter University offers medical students £10,000 to defer

UN Russell Group university is offering a year’s free accommodation and a bursary of £10,000 to medical students who agree to defer their studies for a year amid a surge in applications to study medicine and uncertainty about A-level grade inflation.

Il University of Exeter said there had been a significant increase in the number of candidates for medicine who had made Exeter their first choice, but because of a cap on numbers students are being offered a range of incentives to encourage them to delay their studies.

The university has written to candidates who have accepted offers to study medicine starting this autumn, asking if they will delay until 2022. In return the university will guarantee their place, if they get the required grades, provide free accommodation worth up to £7,600 and a cash bursary of £10,000 “to spend on preparing yourself”.

Prof Mark Goodwin, Exeter’s deputy vice-chancellor (global engagement), disse: “We’ve seen a significant upturn in the number of outstanding applicants prioritising the University of Exeter as their first choice for medicine this year. All medicine student numbers are set by the government to ensure that we can accommodate everyone in a way that provides a high-quality education and stimulating student experience, as well as safe and secure NHS placements.

“To maximise the choices available to our students, we are offering a range of options, including financial incentives, deferral or studying a postgraduate programme, prior to students commencing their medical studies next year.”

The Exeter deferral offer comes as universities across the country are receiving a record number of applications, up 10% among UK 18-year-olds on last year’s figures. While many courses can expand to take in additional students, there is a government ceiling on the number of medical school places and therefore no flexibility.

Admissions officers have been grappling not only with the increase in the number of applications to study medicine, which are up 20% on last year’s figures, but also with the prospect of grade inflation due to exams being cancelled and the use of teacher-assessed grades instead, which could see more students achieve the required grades.

Dr Katie Petty-Saphon from the Medical Schools Council told the BBC the increase in applications had made it harder for universities to judge the right number of offers. “In the past the very best applicants might receive four offers, which would mean they would reject – and thus free up – places at three medical schools.

“This did not happen this year and so the conversion rate of offers to firmly accepted places has changed, meaning that some medical schools have more acceptances than they were anticipating.”

Places to study medicine are among the most competitive and oversubscribed in higher education. Universities are hoping not to see a repeat of the chaos last year when many students planning a career in medicine lost their places after results were downgraded by the government’s standardisation algorithm.

After the algorithm was abandoned in favour of centre-assessed grades that were significantly higher, many students were too late to get into their school of choice as spaces had been filled.

Some were forced to defer a year and will take up their places in the autumn. “The government has funded 450 additional places for applicants who were required to defer last year – and so such candidates are not taking up places destined for 2021 applicants” said Petty-Saphon.

This year’s deferrals could impact on next year’s places for medicine, which are capped at 7,500 in Inghilterra.

Dr Tim Bradshaw, the chief executive of the Russell Group, urged the government to expand the number of places available to study medicine. “The significant increase in applications this year and the uncertainty generated by the introduction of teacher-assessed grades means it has been much harder for all universities to judge the right number of offers to make. This is particularly the case for medicine, where the number of places is capped by the government.”

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