Necessity is the mother of invention: Supporting university offer holders for 2020 entry, and potential applicants for 2021 and beyond

The University of Bath will welcome our new intake of students on 21 September 2020. That leaves just over two months to not only complete the process of admitting the students (which will reach a high point in August, when we receive results for thousands of A-levels and many other qualifications) but also ensure we have identified how they and the university staff they engage with can be safe and supported in their interactions whilst studying their course.

  Mike Nicholson, Director of Undergraduate Admissions and Outreach, University of Bath 

It is important for students, parents and their advisers to understand that the awarded results are not just the predicted grades that they received when they submitted their university application. Significant activity has been carried out by schools, colleges and the examining bodies to evaluate and assess student activity over the duration of their post-16 studies. This should ensure that those students who have been on an improving trajectory in their subjects since their predicted grades were issued will have this factored into the final result they receive. There are also checks in the system to ensure that where student performance has been over-predicted this will be subject to moderation by the examining bodies. This is an important consideration to maintain confidence in the accuracy of the awarded grades this year. 

The University is conscious that we also need to support students who are looking to apply for 2021 entry and beyond. Universities have moved quickly to adapt their outreach and access activity, with significant development of on-line resources to encourage participation and engagement in lock-down. Bath has been a very active partner with the Welsh Government (through the Seren programme), educational charities working in Wales (such as the Brilliant Club) and also with individual schools and colleges. We have a significant Welsh community studying at Bath which we are keen to grow. Activity includes 1:1 e-mentoring, on-line subject-based summer schools, and live chats with current students. We have badged all of our activity as the Summer of Outreach campaign and details of this can be found at https://www.bath.ac.uk/campaigns/summer-of-outreach-2020/ . The University has also gathered a range of resources to support teachers and guidance advisers which can be accessed at https://www.bath.ac.uk/topics/outreach-resource-hub/ . Whilst we also have an opportunity for students to access information that they could have received on an Open Day through our Undergraduate Virtual Experience https://www.bath.ac.uk/topics/undergraduate-virtual-experience/ . We are also developing our plans to ensure that 2021 entry applicants can have an opportunity to safely visit the University in advance of making their final decision on their university, hopefully from September. 

We fortunately have some experience to draw upon when planning for the 2020 academic year. Contrary to some of the media stories, universities did not close during the pandemic. Bath continued to house and feed over 650 students for most of the last four months, whilst also providing online support and education to thousands of students both in the UK and globally. We found ways to complete end of year assessments, and exam boards have been meeting to award degree results. Our counselling, well-being and disability teams have continued to support students with their often-complex needs. The Student’s Union has built a very effective online community to ensure that students maintained strong links with each other and with the University, culminating with a virtual summer ball that included DJ sets, a quiz, and workshops on how to create mocktails and cocktails in your kitchen. Not everything we did or tried to do worked perfectly, but student feedback has allowed us to refine our thinking for this coming year. 

Our starting point has been to identify what activity needs to be available through in-person teaching and engagement on site. Within a full timetable of learning activities, our students will typically receive 4 hours a week of in-person learning. This will mainly take the form of small group tutorials and seminars, peer-to-peer learning and group discussions. Where relevant, in-person time will also be spent on lab work. In addition to this, there will be live interactive sessions using Microsoft Teams and other online platforms as well as independent study. We are not planning to provide in-person large group teaching and lectures, instead utilising alternative tools for this to be delivered online, so students can access this material on a schedule that best suits them. For students who are unable to travel to Bath for the start of the semester or are unable to attend due to reasons related to COVID-19, we will be timetabling interactive sessions that they can engage with online in place of the in-person teaching and engagement we will be offering on-campus. 

We have engaged in regular contact with our students throughout the admissions cycle and made every effort to explain how we will be assessing their qualifications when we receive their final grades. We have liaised with the exam boards and qualifications regulators, including Qualifications Wales, so that we understand the approach being taken to award final grades this year, and reflect the challenges that the pandemic has created so that learners who have already received offers receive fair and full consideration. We have actively encouraged students to declare any mitigating circumstances in advance of the release of results, so that this can be incorporated into our final decisions.  

Clearly this is a challenging period for all students, but it is clear that a great of work is going on to minimise the disruption in the 2020 and 2021 application and admission cycles. The higher education sector has worked hard to address the concerns that have surfaced in recent months, and as long as applicants, teachers, universities, exam boards, regulators and Government bodies continue to communicate with each other, students should be confident that they will be able to secure good outcomes for university applications in 2020 and 2021. 

Published 28 July 2020