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COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – support and guidance

3 April 2020


The following is an update for Access to HE receiving institutions relating to the award of the Access to HE Diploma for students who planned to complete by 31 July 2020.

Every year, the Access to Higher Education Diploma provides a vital resource of students to higher education providers across the UK, with over 20,000 students progressing to university courses annually. Access to HE students often come from diverse backgrounds and are proven to be driven and committed: 90% of graduates with an Access to HE Diploma are employed or in further study six months after graduation.


At QAA, we have ensured that Access to HE qualifications meet the highest quality standards since 1997, and in the midst of the current COVID-19 pandemic we are working hard to ensure that this unique qualification remains a high-quality source of students for higher education providers across the UK.


We are working closely with the Department for Education (DfE), Ofqual and other organisations to produce a clear, fair and consistent approach to assessment for the award of Access to HE Diplomas for 2019/20.  


We welcome the principles being used for the determination of grades for A levels and other level 3 qualifications that facilitate progression to HE, and we are keen to ensure parity for students who planned to complete their Access to HE Diploma by 31 July 2020. These students will be awarded a graded Access to HE Diploma based on the assessment they have already completed with calculated grades for all remaining assessments that have submission dates after 20 March 2020.  


The calculated grade will take into account tutors’ assessment of the likely grade as well as other factors such as prior attainment on the course. We are developing a new regulatory framework to support the implementation of this model in light of the current extenuating circumstances.  


We will be working with Access Validating Agencies (AVAs) and course providers across England, Wales and Northern Ireland to ensure the principles being used for the assessment of calculated grades are fair.  


We will implement robust quality assurance mechanisms to test both the grades achieved and those predicted to ensure fairness for Access to HE students. Higher education professionals working with our AVAs as external moderators will be involved in these quality assurance mechanisms.  


We will maintain overall oversight of the model to ensure consistency is applied across all Access to HE Diplomas awarded by our AVAs. We will also undertake additional monitoring activities to assure ourselves and stakeholders that students’ results are accurate, fair and robust.   


We recognise the importance of making sure that Access to HE students continue to be well prepared for their transition to higher education. Therefore, we expect that Access to HE course providers continue to support their students to engage with alternative teaching, where possible, to maximise their learning.  


We recognise that some students may feel disappointed that they haven not been able to complete their assessments. If a student does not feel that their calculated grades reflect their expected performance, they will have the opportunity to appeal or they may choose to sit their assessments at the earliest reasonable opportunity. Students who choose to sit their assessments later will be made aware of the importance of contacting their receiving institution regarding their progression to university in September. In addition, if a student does not believe the correct process of assessment for the award of the Access to HE Diploma has been followed in their case, they will be able to appeal.


We know that higher education providers across the UK highly value the Access to HE Diploma and play a key role in helping us to deliver successful students. In addition to the role that you play quality assuring Access to HE Diplomas by participating in moderation processes and overseeing outcomes through their service on AVA committees, higher education staff are involved in Access to HE in many other ways. This includes Access to HE course development by advising on content and taking part in validation processes, recruitment and widening participation activities for Access to HE students.


We very much value your continued support with these activities.  


Further information 


We will continue to provide updates for Access to HE receiving institutions and providers on the QAA website.  


Support and information for students, including FAQs for students, is available on our Access to HE website.


If you need help or further support, please speak contact the Access to HE Team at QAA.