Education news

Controversial university offers to be banned

Universities can no longer make `conditional unconditional' offers

UNIVERSITIES are to be prevented from making controversial `conditional unconditional' offers.

The Office for Students (OfS) has moved to ban the practice to prevent institutions luring young people away from their competitors.

Such offers are not based on A-level results but instead on a student accepting a university as their sole choice.

Critics say they put pressure on young people to make a snap decision and encourage them not to work hard to get the best A-level results.

Admissions service Ucas reported that their use was on the rise.

In 2019, there were 35 universities and colleges where at least 1 per cent of offers made were `conditional unconditional'.

They appear to have reached a peak during the lockdown amid fears about student numbers ahead of the next academic year.

The offers are conditional at the point at which they are first made. They are adjusted by the provider from conditional to unconditional if selected as an applicant's firm choice.

Now any university that continues the practice will be in breach of a new regulatory condition and would face a fine of up to £500,000.

While the rule concerns institutions in England only, it will affect hundreds of students from the north who leave home for their degrees.

It will stay in place until September 2021 and will cover admissions for the next two academic years.

OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge said concerns about the offers were "even more acute" given the disruption caused by Covid-19.

"We have ensured that the condition explicitly permits unconditional and contextual offers that are clearly in students' interests, and which support the transition into higher education for the most disadvantaged students," she added.

The National Union of Students said it supported the move.

"It's welcome that the decision has been made to ban conditional unconditional offers during the coronavirus crisis, especially as current applicants have less access to information, advice and guidance than students in previous years," a spokesman said.

"NUS has previously expressed concerns around the increased use of conditional unconditional offers, which can put pressure on students and prevent them from making the right choices, but it is important to remember that the solutions to this problem exist beyond the admissions process.

"These negative impacts inevitably stem from the marketisation of our education system; this is why we need a sustainable HE funding system that does not require universities to compete and take drastic steps to recruit students for their fee income."

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