Almost two-fifths of university applicants this year received an unconditional offer, according to the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas).
Analysis by the admissions service, Ucas, shows that 38% (97,045) of those applying for an undergraduate place in England, Wales and Northern Ireland received an offer with an unconditional component in 2019. In 2018, 34% (87,540) received an offer of the same kind.
Unconditional offers are university place offers given to applicants based on their predicted grades before exam results have been received, and most likely mean that students are guaranteed a place.
The figures come after ministers warned that universities giving out unconditional offers are “undermining the credibility of higher education” and told institutions to reduce the number of the type of offer given out.
The Office for Students (OfS) have also been critical of unconditional offers, stating that universities adding a “psychological pressure” or “creating an impression of urgency” in the decision making process for applicants could be a potential breach of consumer protection law.
A report by the OfS, the higher education watchdog, published earlier this year found that applicants who accept an unconditional offer are more likely to miss their predicted A-level grades by two or more grades.
Moreover, a report by Ucas in 2018 found that applicants from the most disadvantaged areas in the UK were 50% more likely to receive an unconditional offer than those from the most advantaged areas.
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
– Department for Education spokesperson
Universities UK (UUK) recently launched a “fair admissions review”, part of which will be looking into whether or not applications should be based on predicted grades.
The review is set to analyse “how admissions practices work…to identify the main challenges linked to admissions and offer-making practices including unconditional and contextual offers”.
Overall, 257,910 18-year-old students from England, Northern Ireland and Wales applied for university through Ucas this year before the 30 June deadline.
80% of applicants received an offer of either conditional, unconditional, or conditional unconditional.
The University of Warwick confirmed to The Boar that they do not give out unconditional offers to applicants who have yet to be awarded their A-level grades or other qualifications and “has no plans to change that”.
The University “will only, and very exceptionally, make unconditional offers only to applicants who have already taken and achieved the qualifications necessary to meet the university’s entry requirements prior to their application such as those applying in a gap year after already completing, and being awarded, their A levels”.
The use of unconditional offers remains a complex issue and continues to evolve
– Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive
Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, said: “Students’ best interests must be the number-one consideration for universities and colleges when making offers.
“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 in response to the figures released by Ucas: “Our recently announced ‘Fair admissions review’ is bringing together school, college, university and UCAS leaders to ensure offer making practices are fair and transparent, underpinned by clear criteria and operating in the best interests of students.
“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.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said: “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 also 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.”