Russell Group universities have offered almost £9million in incentives to entice students to defer their places

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He said: “Universities will rightly have to answer for the value for money of this expenditure, but the responsibility lies with the government which has failed to plan for student outcomes.

“Labour has called on ministers to work urgently with universities to ensure that this year’s students, who have faced unprecedented disruption, are not at risk of missing out on future opportunities due to postponements or the chaos of the last two years.”

Andrea Jenkyns, the new Minister for Higher Education, said university admissions “will return to some resemblance to normality” this year, and any suggestion of a shortage of places is “scaremonger and puts a unnecessary stress on students at an already stressful time”.

Universities have said they do not expect to have to pay for deferrals this year, after exams watchdog Ofqual pledged to start tackling grade inflation.

A Russell Group spokesperson said: Over the past two years, Russell Group universities have stepped up to ensure students are not disadvantaged by the pandemic following the shift to center and teacher-assessed grades, increasing their national admission by 28 %.

“In a small number of cases, universities have offered applicants voluntary deferrals, often for courses like medicine or dentistry where numbers are capped by the government.”

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