UUK questions legality of university admissions review

UUK says it will discuss the legality of a review into university admissions with DfE

Universities UK will discuss political intervention in admissions with Department for Education (DfE) officials.

UUK, which represents 136 universities, confirmed it will raise its concerns after  education secretary Damian Hinds called for a review of unconditional offers.

The education secretary has no power to direct institutions to end the practice of making conditional unconditional offers or to require OfS to direct institutions to do so – Smita Jamdar

A spokesperson for UUK said: “The autonomy of universities to set criteria for the admission of students is a core principle of the Higher Education and Research Act. This independence empowers universities to approach admissions as best fits their individual contexts and the characteristics of students.”

In early April, education secretary Damian Hinds called for a review of university admissions procedures after Ucas reported that more than one in three 18-year-old university applicants received an unconditional offer.

Hinds said at the time: “It is simply unacceptable for universities to adopt pressure-selling tactics, which are harming students’ grades in order to fill places. It is not what I expect to see from our world-class higher education institutions. Conditional unconditional offers are damaging the reputation of the institutions involved and our world-leading sector as a whole.”

Smita Jamdar, head of education law at firm Shakespeare Martineau, wrote in WonkHE: “The education secretary has no power to direct institutions to end the practice of making conditional unconditional offers or to require OfS to direct institutions to do so. He could, however, ask OfS to look at the narrower question of whether there is evidence of “pressure selling” or the more general question of whether there was any actual evidence (as opposed to anecdotes) that outcomes for students admitted via a conditional unconditional offer were any worse than those admitted via conditional offers.”

Nottingham University announced in January that it would stop offering unconditional offers to applicants who had yet to sit their A level exams.

Dr Paul Greatrix, University of Nottingham registrar, told the BBC in January: “Selective universities like Nottingham will always compete legitimately for talented applicants. However, we want everyone to be fully confident that they are admitted purely on their merits and potential.

“The most accurate way of securing applications lies in the sector adopting a post-qualification admissions system – a concept that Nottingham has supported for more than a decade.”

The Guardian has reported that some vice-chancellors are seeking legal advice amid concerns the education secretary is overstepping his powers as set out in the Higher Education and Research Act.

The DfE told the Guardian: “The education secretary’s intervention has not breached any legislation. It is a priority for him to protect the reputation of our world-leading higher education system. This includes driving a relentless focus on quality and ensuring that students’ interests are at its heart.”