Written by Joanna Hughes

We recently featured the story of one UK university’s decision to stop giving unconditional offers to applicants for admission. However, the unconditional offer trend is still going strong, according to a recent report from The Guardian based on Ucas data. In fact, more than a third of 18-year-old applicants received unconditional offers in 2018.

A Look at the Numbers

Unconditional offers spiked from 3,000 to 68,000 between 2013 and 2018. The number rose to 87,000 when unconditional offers were included for students who firmly chose the university. All in all, 34 percent of 18-year-old college applicants in the UK received unconditional offers.

Ucas data further shows that students with unconditional offers were less likely -- albeit by a small margin -- to achieve their predicted grades than their classmates with conditional offers. It also reveals that regardless of the type of offer, the majority of sixth-form applicants did not achieve their predicted A-level grades.

Fresh Debate

England’s education secretary Damian Hinds has expressed concern over the trend. “This report shows that many students could be distracted from the final year of their schooling, and achieve A-level grades lower than they are capable of. These are effects that we know can have a significant impact on their career,” he said.

Meanwhile, the University and College Union also called for an overhaul of the applications process -- specifying the imperative to shift to a system in which “offers are based on actual achievement rather than estimated potential.”

But not all higher-ups agree. University vice-chancellor Chris Husbands said, “We don’t use them to put bums on seats, in the minister’s phrase, we use them to position ourselves at the top end of the attainment range and attract a high calibre of students. These are students who are going to university, and I want them to come here and not to a university down the road.”

All of which begs the question: where do students stand on unconditional offers? A full 70 percent of them are in favor of them. “Applicants themselves remain broadly supportive of the use of unconditional offers, welcoming the certainty of knowing they have a place, and being able to go ahead and arrange their accommodation and start planning for their lives in higher education,” explained Ucas.

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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