University ‘conditional unconditional’ offers at record high – Ucas

Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, said the organisation was ready to work with the OfS and UUK 'on their respective upcoming admissions practice reviews'

A record number of students received an unconditional offer this year, according to Ucas.

In its report, ‘Unconditional offers – an update for 2019’, Ucas says 25% of 18-year-old university applicants received a ‘conditional unconditional’ offer, up from 23% last year.

These controversial offers promise an applicant a place on the condition the offer is accepted as their first choice. The annual rise in unconditional offers is smaller than in the previous two years.

Around two-fifths of candidates received an offer Ucas say “contained an unconditional component”. Applicants from the most advantaged backgrounds, identified using POLAR4 data, were slightly more likely to receive a ‘conditional unconditional’ offer than those from the most disadvantaged backgrounds.

We have particular concerns about the use of conditional unconditional offers, which can potentially pressure students into accepting a place which may not the best option for them – Department for Education

Ucas estimates that around one in seven offers made this year “have an unconditional component”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Education said: “What sets the UK’s world-leading universities apart is our relentless focus on quality and this must be protected.

“There is a place for unconditional offers, however this data highlights the continued rise in their use, and we know some students who accept unconditional offers can be more likely to miss their predicted A level grades.

“We have particular concerns about the use of conditional unconditional offers, which can potentially pressure students into accepting a place which may not the best option for them.”


Read more: UUK launches major review of offer making


In July 2019, Universities UK (UUK) revealed it was investigating the use of unconditional offers in a wider review of offer making practices. The Fair Admissions review, which will be chaired by Prof Paddy Nixon, vice-chancellor and president of Ulster University, and include Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, will report its findings in spring 2020.

Marchant said in response to the report: “The use of unconditional offers remains a complex issue and continues to evolve. We look forward to working with the Office for Students and Universities UK on their respective upcoming admissions practice reviews, to deliver meaningful recommendations.”

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of UUK, said: “There are clear benefits in universities being able to use a variety of offer making practices to reflect an individual student’s circumstances, potential and the context of their application, and to support different groups such as students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“An important principle of the UK system is that universities decide independently which students they accept; but with this comes a responsibility to explain why and how places are awarded, and to show the public and students why different types of offers are made.”

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: “The continuing rise of unconditional offers demonstrates the stark failings of our current admissions system. It is time for us to join the rest of the world and adopt a post-qualifications admission system so we can make university offers based on actual achievements instead of guesswork.”

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said: “A number of universities amended their admissions procedures following the publication of our own analysis on this issue. However these figures demonstrate that the use of these offers remains widespread in our higher education sector.

“All universities should carefully consider how to best ensure that their admissions procedures and practices are reliable, fair and inclusive. We will be launching a wide ranging consultation later this year on whether the admissions system serves the interests of students and how it might be improved.”


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