A levels
Image: Wikimedia Commons / Daniel Milford

Universities told to stop unconditional offers amid coronavirus outbreak

English universities have been urged to refrain from increasing their use of unconditional offers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister, has asked universities not to change offers made to students for the next two weeks.

A number of institutions have been converting their offers from conditional to unconditional amid uncertainty about how the coronavirus will affect examinations and how students will be awarded grades.

The Department for Education has asked for two weeks to “allow time for further advice to be given to students and providers about how the new system of awarding A-level grades will work, and how the admissions arrangements will work”.

Ms Donelan said: “We are facing unprecedented circumstances as a country, but it is essential that we create a period of stability for both students and universities.

“As universities seek to secure attendance for the next academic year, I would ask them to refrain from changing existing offers to unconditional offers as it risks destabilising the entire admissions systems.”

The government has criticised the use of such offers in the past.

Last year, after the revelation that almost two-fifths of 2019-20 applicants received an unconditional offer, ministers warned that their overuse risked “undermining the credibility of higher education”.

It would be quite wrong for any university or college to respond to the coronavirus crisis by making unconditional offers that may put pressure on worried students to accept courses that may not be in their best long-term interests

– Nicola Dandridge

Ms Donelan continued: “We must also look out for students, too, who in these uncertain times may be feeling anxious about their futures. I want to reassure students that we will provide them with the grades they need. No student should feel pressured into making a quick decision, which may end up not being in their best interest.”

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students (OfS), supported the two-week moratorium.

She said: “These are extraordinarily difficult times and universities and colleges will be understandably concerned about the next academic year.

“However, it would be quite wrong for any university or college to respond to the coronavirus crisis by making unconditional offers that may put pressure on worried students to accept courses that may not be in their best long-term interests.

“The exams regulator Ofqual is rapidly developing a fair way of issuing A-level grades which should provide reassurance to students, and will also mean that there is no reason to rush decisions.

“Given Ofqual’s work, universities and colleges have no reason to be making these offers in response to the current situation.”

Ms Dandridge also stated that the OfS would use “any powers available” to prevent institutions making unconditional offers, or adjusting existing offers, for the next two weeks.

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