Students could take legal action if they are forced to defer for a year after being offered a place at university, the Times reports.

Universities were thrown a curveball this week after a government U-turn meant thousands of students with one set of grades received under a computer-moderated system then received their often higher teacher-assessed marks after claims of unfairness.

But before the U-turn, universities had already accepted students onto their courses, so universities are having to decide who to give places to this year. The government has lifted student number caps to ease the situation, but this will not solve the problem for many as they simply don’t have the space or resources to take on more students.

Suzanne Rab, a barrister at Serle Court Chambers, told the Times that universities had been placed in an untenable position, adding to the challenges of Covid-19. Students could challenge universities that asked them to defer, using public law principles, she said. “I think there will be legal action by some to force universities to take them this year,” she said. “You’re looking ultimately at a judicial review.”

Tina Patel, a personal injury lawyer for Leigh Day, said: “We have been inundated with inquiries from students who despite yesterday’s announcement have been left no better off.

“Whilst the government has lifted the cap on the number of students universities can accept, the ultimate decision lies with the individual universities. Some students may be offered places this year; some may be required to defer for a year and be forced to take a year out. This poses difficulties in the current economic climate.”

Alistair Jarvis, head of Universities UK, which represents vice-chancellors, said that there was now significant grade inflation “and suddenly a lot of extra students”. He added: “It’s very hard to take large additional numbers. There isn’t a quick sticking plaster you can just put on overnight.”