The controversy around the rise of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers, as well as government pressure for more ‘true’ unconditional offers, sparked this review.
The current admission system through which many 18 year olds enter during their A level courses, consists in joining predicted grades to the applications sent to their various higher education choices. Successful applicants then receive either conditional offers, based on obtaining specific grades in related subjects, or unconditional ones. Although the government has been pressuring Universities UK to increase the number of unconditional offers made to A levels students, these only amount to 38% of offers made in 2019. This represents a mere 4% increase since 2018.
Offering more unconditional places at University would be a first step towards filling the social gap between applicants. Studies have shown that students from less wealthy areas of the country were twice less likely to receive an unconditional offer from at least one of their UCAS choices. Worse yet, it appears their A level grade predictions tend to be under or overestimated, potentially encouraging Universities not to make an offer, or being detrimental to the students missing their predicted grades. In the past the latter has been the case for up to sixty percent of students with conditional offers. A possible shift to post-qualification admissions, i.e applying to university only once students get their grades, such as through Clearing and Adjustment, is also being examined.
This year, UCAS introduced ‘conditional unconditional offers’, which grant an unconditional offer to the applicant if they make it their first choice. Concern has raised over these new offers, qualified by some as “pressure selling”, which would break the consumer law to which all course providers are bound. Moreover, these choices might sound more secure to applicants, leading them to choose a course which may not be the best fit for their assets and abilities.
UK Universities cherish the autonomy that allows them to carefully select the students they want to admit on their courses. As Alistair Jarvis, UUK chief executive, puts it; with the universities’ will to choose who joins their ranks 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”. Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, also commented that universities were in the midst of a battle to protect that autonomy, and the continuing expansion of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers was “making it harder to win”.
The UUK review would be due for spring 2020.