UK Commissioners’ Letter to Universities UK

Professor Julia Buckingham CBE 
Universities UK
16 August 2020 

Dear Professor Buckingham,

We write to issue a plea on behalf of the United Kingdom’s young people to ask all UK Universities to be highly flexible in the unique circumstances of the Coronavirus Pandemic and to honour the offers of a place they have  already made to prospective qualifications results in 2020. 

As independent commissioners our role is to ensure that children and young people’s human rights are protected in our respective jurisdictions. The rights to an education and to fair and equal treatment have been severely compromised this year. 

The cancellation of exams was understandable due to the sudden and  severe nature of the pandemic, and the cessation of all but on-line teaching which would have provided an unstable and unequal platform for students to sit their examinations through distant methods. We believe that the UK and devolved governments have set out to implement a method of determining results that would attempt to replicate the patterns of previous years and bring a reasonable set of results to our exam candidates.  However, this attempt has led to too many individual anomalies and an  acute sense of hopelessness and frustration by individual students who  have not had the opportunity to complete their education and sit the exams. We have been very concerned to hear from candidates who have now been rejected by universities on the basis of results which appear not to reflect their ability and anticipated attainment. Appeals systems will likely favour students with the support of confident and well-resourced families, schools and colleges. Each UK government has used different methods and made different decisions in the last few days which will also provide inequalities between students in different UK nations.

We believe that our universities must now provide for this cohort of young people an exceptional response to exceptional times. University offers will have been made on the basis of individual statements, previous achievements, references, predicted grades and in some cases entrance exams and interviews. Many students have had little chance to progress their education since those offers were made. It is unfair to now reject individuals whose results have been arrived at by a system that is likely to have produced individual anomalies. 

The impact of the decisions made by universities now will have life-long consequences for this generation of young people. We strongly urge universities to respond with generosity of spirit and to warmly welcome all students who hold conditional offers for their institution. 

Yours sincerely, 

Professor Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales 
Anne Longfield OBE, Children’s Commissioner for England 
Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland 
Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People

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