Students have been offered £10,000 to defer their medical degrees after a record number of applications.
Exeter University has written to school leavers who have been offered a place to study medicine this autumn to ask if they are prepared to delay the start of their course for a year.
In exchange, they would be handed £10,000 in cash which they could spend on “preparing” themselves to start university, as well as free accommodation.
The move comes amid a record number of students who have applied to study medicine this autumn, a rise of more than 20 per cent on last year.
Medicine is one of the most competitive degrees with the number of places capped by the government at around 7,500 students each year.
Prof Mark Goodwin, Exeter’s deputy vice chancellor, said it had seen a significant increase in students who had prioritised the university as their first choice for medicine.
"We want to deliver a really high quality student experience, and deliver those safe and secure NHS placements so we can train the number of doctors the government asks us to train,” he told the BBC.
"Places to study to be a doctor are limited by the government, partly because of the large subsidy needed from public funding to meet the high cost of around £180,000 for a medical degree.”
Universities are bracing for another summer of chaos with huge levels of grade inflation expected after exams were axed for the second year in a row owing to the pandemic.
Students will receive A-level results based on teachers’ predictions next month, and it is expected that a higher proportion than normal will receive top grades.
This means universities will have more students who have met the terms of their offer and as such expect to take up a place to study this autumn.
When a university makes an offer to a student, it is “basically regarded as a contract”, according to Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute.
“The students can break it by pulling themselves out and going into clearing but for a university, it is regarded as something you cannot break.”
This means that if a student meets the terms of their offer, the university is obliged to give them a place.
“I suspect many universities will need to think creatively about how to accommodate more students,” Mr Hillman said.
“They have got to make sure they have the space and staff to deliver a good experience. Exeter University’s cash incentive to defer could be the first of many similar stories.”
Dr Katie Petty-Siphon from the Medical Schools Council, said the increase in applications this year has made it harder for universities to judge the right number of offers.