The government has announced extra funding for medicine and dentistry schools to allow them to expand their courses after applications increased by a fifth.
The cap on the number of places on these courses at universities in England will be increased to allow for more than 9,000 places for the 2021 student intake, the Department for Education (DfE) has announced.
It said there had been a 20% increase in applications for medicine and dentistry courses this year, and more students are expected to get the required grades due to an expected inflation in A-level results because of the pandemic.
The number of places are capped to ensure teaching, learning and assessment standards are maintained.
Labour accused ministers of being in “panic mode” in making the announcement ahead of A-level results next week.
The shadow education secretary, Kate Green, said: “Young people getting their results have worked incredibly hard in unprecedented circumstances.
“The Prime Minister has let them down with a second year of chaos and confusion, he must guarantee every student getting their results will be able to progress with their education or employment.
“If the Government can create these additional healthcare places at just days’ notice, it begs serious questions about why they have not acted sooner to tackle the ongoing workforce crisis in the NHS.”
Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said: “Throughout this pandemic our NHS heroes have been at the forefront of the response and their resilience, dedication and perseverance has clearly inspired the next generation.
“Medicine and dentistry have always been popular courses and we have seen significant demand for places this year alongside other subjects like engineering and nursing.
“We want to match student enthusiasm and ensure as many as possible can train this year to be the doctors and healthcare professionals of the future.”
Thousands will find out their results next Tuesday, but their grades have been drawn up by their teachers after exams were cancelled for the second year in a row.
It comes after a report said A-level students were expected to be awarded even more top grades to compensate for the disruption to learning during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Daily Telegraph said the rise would prompt universities to set their own entrance exam.
Grades were calculated based on a range of evidence such as mock results coursework and in-class assessments.
Professor Alan Smithers, a director at the Centre of Education and Employment Research (CEER) at the University of Buckingham, said: “The early signs are that it will be another bumper year for grades, justified as compensation for all the disruption suffered.
“The danger is that the inflated grades, in other words, lower standards, will become the new norm.”
Lats summer a controversial algorithm downgraded thousands of grades forcing Ofqual, the education regulator, to announce a U-turn.
The proportion of top grades awarded to students surged to a record high after grades were allowed to be based on teachers’ assessments.
“The expansion of the A* and A grades means that a much wider range of abilities is bundled up in them, which makes it much more difficult for universities to select accurately and fairly,” Prof Smithers added.
“Some of those admitted may not be able to cope and will have wasted time and money, and some who are much more able will be missing out when they could have done really well.
“Awarding higher grades in compensation for lost learning can be killing with kindness.”