Russell Group response to DfE/Ofqual consultation on summer 2021 assessment

04 February 2021

Students applying to university should receive their exam results earlier in August and at the same time across the UK to reduce stress for young people and make the admissions process as smooth as possible, the Russell Group has said in a response to Ofqual and the Department for Education (DfE).

The Russell Group is also calling for urgent clarity on grade distribution to help it plan for a potentially larger cohort of students and to consider the additional support universities might require in order to navigate admissions this year.

In its response to the Ofqual/DfE consultation on assessment conditions for summer 2021, the group of 24 universities is also asking for more contextual information about students and details about the content not being covered in this year to help it better assess applications and ensure people from disadvantaged backgrounds are not unfairly penalised. This information is also needed to help universities put appropriate measures in place to support students.

Commenting, Cat Turhan, Policy Analyst at the Russell Group, said:

“As well as a fair and transparent system for determining grades for students this summer, it is crucial that steps are taken to enable a smooth university admissions process that is consistent across the country and minimises the stress on those receiving their grades.

“Key to this will be maintaining a single results day across all UK nations, early enough to give universities enough time to process results, and with continued ‘coupling’ of when students and universities are informed of results to allow places to be confirmed immediately.

“Whatever the assessment system this summer, we want to reassure students across all four nations of the UK that Russell Group universities will be as fair and flexible as possible to ensure they are not disadvantaged in their applications.”

Key recommendations from the Russell Group include:

  • A single results day across all UK nations, to prevent confusion among groups of students across the devolved nations facing differing advice and guidance.
  • This single results day should be moved forward from 24th August to an earlier date in that month to give universities more time to process results and arrange onboarding activities to support students, while still allowing time for appeals.
  • Ofqual and DfE to reject proposals to decouple when students are informed of their results from when universities are informed of them. ‘Decoupling’ could have significant unintended consequences, increasing stress for applicants, pressure on the appeals system, and the administrative burden on higher education providers.
  • Ofqual and DfE to provide urgent clarity on what the grade distribution is likely to be this year, and consider the additional support universities might require in order to navigate admissions this year, particularly in the event of substantial grade inflation and subsequent pressures on capacity.
  • To ensure people from disadvantaged backgrounds are not unfairly penalised, universities should be provided with as much contextual information as possible, including Free School Meal data, to inform admissions decisions.
  • Additional information from schools on the subject content not covered will also be important to enable universities to have appropriate measures in place to support students.

The full Russell Group response to the DfE/Ofqual consultation can be found here.


  • The Russell Group represents 24 leading UK universities which are committed to maintaining an outstanding teaching and learning experience and world-leading research. Our universities teach a quarter of all undergraduates and four out of five doctors, and support over a quarter of a million jobs across the UK.
  • There was a 22 percent increase in the number of students from the most underrepresented communities placed at high-tariff universities in 2020, according to analysis published by OfS (3 November 2020).
  • Placed applicants at higher tariff universities went from 152,990 at the same time in the cycle in 2019 to 171,470 in 2020, an increase of 12%, according to analysis published by UCAS (24 September 2020).
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