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Confirmation and Clearing 2021

10 Aug 2021

A message from Professor April McMahon, Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students

Confirmation and Clearing 2021

Dear colleagues

A little earlier than has been the norm in August, we are now working through the processes that will see a new intake of students joining us in the Autumn.

A big thank you

On behalf of the Senior Leadership Team, I would like to thank all the hundreds of students, staff and volunteers from across our University community who are answering calls, handling queries and doing their utmost to support students, parents and supporters through this time which can be challenging and anxious for some and joyful and exhilarating for others. Ever more so as we slowly emerge from the depths of a pandemic.

Where we are

In light of the shifting external and internal context, we would like to give you some more details about:

  • The uncertainty surrounding admissions for this year’s entry in light of teacher-assessed grades;
  • Very high demand for The University of Manchester and how we are responding to this;
  • The challenge of increased student numbers;
  • A commitment to support colleagues; and
  • That there will be no clearing for undergraduate programmes for entry in 2021, as confirmed yesterday.

Careful planning based on last year’s experience – but uncertainty has persisted

We definitely learned a lot from the very uncertain circumstances that we found ourselves in during last year’s Admissions period and have sought to translate that learning and experience into careful planning at central and faculty levels - during this second, consecutive unusual year. 

One of our Board colleagues vividly described getting Admissions right in a normal year as landing a jumbo jet on a postage stamp. Many years of experience with exam-based results have made us very adept at getting the landing just about right.

However, this year we have faced another unique set of circumstances with an increase in applications and acceptances and the advent of Teacher Assessed Grades. Overall, students have achieved better than ever A-level results with far more students than we would ever expect attaining or exceeding the grades offered – certainly in comparison to the pre-COVID exam system.

If you like, that means there has been quite a lot of turbulence, and the plane that we are trying to land on the postage stamp has got a little bigger.

More popular than ever

So where are we this morning?

What is clear is that we remain ever more popular as a destination for study and personal growth for prospective students from near and far. A combination of a world-class University and staff, with a wonderful campus environment, set in one of the most dynamic and exciting cities in the UK, has proved to be a compelling mix.

Applications and acceptances have both been buoyant. We have seen very high demand for places in many subjects including computer science, law, psychology as well as medicine, dentistry and other healthcare-focused courses. While we have carefully managed the number and conditions of the offers that we have made across the University, we had higher acceptances and consequently, a much higher percentage of students attaining their grades - in some areas that attainment rate has been well over 90%.

Inevitably some challenges

With that popularity, several deferrals from last year and a higher level of students meeting or exceeding the terms of their offers, there is undoubtedly pressure across a number of programmes including well-documented subjects such as Medicine and Dentistry where there are additional limitations of clinical placements, and others where there may be limits on lab space and other facilities, so we are having to take some tough decisions. We try to work through these challenges every year – but they are heightened in this Admissions cycle.

Where students have met or exceeded the terms of their offer, then we have to accept them if they wish to come. We know that there are going to be some students who have just missed the terms of their offer and very sadly, we will have to disappoint some of them. We are trying to exercise flexibility where we can, especially for students who have already overcome disadvantage. No-one rejoices in turning down students who have worked so hard, and come so close to achieving what they need, especially given the challenges of the last 18 months – but there are cases where we can do nothing else.

We have expanded numbers but there is a limit as we need to ensure we can provide a great experience for all our students and have staff and resources to support them.  So, there will be cases where we can’t squeeze in just a few more Physics or Music students (say), because to do so would mean everyone struggles to get access to the labs and the practice rooms they need.

There are specific subjects where special circumstances also apply. For example, in Medicine, Dentistry and other clinical disciplines, even with the welcome news that the government will be relaxing caps on student numbers, there are a finite number of clinical placements. The number of clinical placements we can offer is determined by external bodies. So we have no scope to go over the imposed caps, especially with deferrals from last year as a consequence of pandemic effects, while ensuring everyone stays safe and gets essential clinical experience.

A commitment to support

We also have to recognise that our popularity, alongside better than expected A-level results, represent a potential challenge for all of you – who have worked so hard to adapt and support our students through the last academic year and more.

Our highly experienced teaching, learning, recruitment and admissions teams have been working over the past year to manage all these competing external factors. Much has been done in planning for likely pressure points in Faculties and Schools and solutions are often already in hand including recruiting additional staff.

Over the next few weeks, where outcomes were significantly more unexpected, we will be working closely across the University to ensure that further resources will be made available ahead of the academic year to support the recruitment of additional staff where needed, whether academic, teaching assistants and PS colleagues to support the teaching activity and student experience in these and related areas.

In conclusion

As we know, the process for Admissions goes on all year round, but it is particularly hectic and pressured at this time - so I would once again like to thank staff and student staff from across our University community for all they are doing now to ensure that we deal with all the queries and concerns promptly and sympathetically. Many thanks to all of you who will continue to work tirelessly to enable new students to arrive ready, prepared and excited for their new university adventure in Manchester this Autumn. 

April McMahon

Vice-President for Teaching, Learning and Students