Unconditional university offers are being used to pressurise students to accept places, so says the Office for Students. So what is an unconditional offer and what is the controversy all about?
The Office for Students claims that universities are using unconditional offers to essentially pressure sell which could put them in breach of consumer laws. Others argue that unconditional offers are a good idea as they remove all the pressure from a student to have to deliver in their final school exams. Lets start with what an unconditional offer is.
An unconditional university offer is where the university makes you an offer before you sit your final school or college exams, in other words the place is yours whatever your final results are.You should however always check that there are no other requirements that you need to meet. For many students these are a great idea as they take the pressure off the student having to get certain grades at A level or Scottish Higher.
Many of the original reasons for a university offering an unconditional offer was;for outstanding students who the university wanted to get hold of, mature students who already have qualifications and creative arts subjects where a portfolio is submitted. But the growth in unconditional offers would suggest that there is more going on here.But is there a downside to unconditional offers?
The big advantage is that you go into your exams knowing that whatever happens you have a place on the course and at the university of your choice.But it is worth pointing out that A level grades can still be important. UCAS are keen to point out that when you start at University you will be straight into exams and assessments and essays so what you achieve in your final year at school or college can help prepare you. You may also find that the course and University choice isn't right, if you want to go elsewhere or even get into a job then your A level grades could be important. Another really important point is that if you accept the unconditional offer you are entering into a commitment. This means you cannot go into clearing nor can you have an insurance choice.
Some educators worry that unconditional offers undermine the education system itself because they encourage students to then make less effort in their final year. Many worry that exams are after all a way of demonstrating a student has met the requirements of a course, if this is being undermined by unconditional offers then it make a mockery of the system itself.
Conditional offers means that you have a place at your chosen university but you need to get certain exam results. So a university may stipulate that you need 3 A levels AAB or say 4 Scottish Highers, grades BBBB.
The number of unconditional offers has risen from 3,000 in 2013 to 117,000 in 2018. They also found that those students who accept unconditional offers do then go on to miss their predicted grades. This could be because there is no incentive to then work hard on those exams as the student doesn't see them as important or the predictions were wrong in the first place.
Their concern is also that students are experiencing pressure selling from universities who are using unconditional offers to force students into filling places.Universities have disagreed with this assessment, many claiming that unconditional offers are simply a way of helping more disadvantaged students into Higher Education.
Head teachers have also urged students to resist the lure of unconditional offers but to think more about what is the right course and university for them. Their concern is that many universities who offer unconditional offers only do so if the student makes them their first choice. This is exactly the concern around pressurised selling.In other words the unconditional has become conditional.
Some have argued that what the UK needs now is a system whereby admissions are made post qualification. This would mean that first year students wouldn't start university until later in the year but decisions would be made on grades achieved, not grades predicated. This may clearly benefit the universities but also the students. You may for example do better than you expected to which means other universities could then be opened up to you that you had previously discounted. If you end up overachieving you are faced with having to defer, attend a university below your potential or try to trade up. In the past UCAS has proposed a model whereby students who have already qualified apply first at the end of June,students sitting their exams in June then apply later. To date no-one has taken this proposal up.