Universities warned to stop making unconditional offers to boost student numbers

A university chief says converting offers to unconditional is “the equivalent of a chemist jacking paracetamol prices up to a tenner”

Premium
 Universities are anticipating a drop in the number of international students this year
 Universities are anticipating a drop in the number of international students this year

Universities have been warned to stop making unconditional offers to boost student numbers as ministers say this is “destabilising” the admissions system.

Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, has ordered admissions tutors to halt the practise of offering giving places away to students irrespective of their grades.

Her intervention comes after reports that students have been inundated with unconditional offers in the wake of the Government’s announcement that A-levels are cancelled.

Universities are anticipating a drop in the number of international students this year, meaning there will be a shortfall in places which they are now scrambling to fill with British school leavers.

Students who applied to Liverpool Hope, Coventry, Manchester Edge Hill, Leeds Beckett and Cardiff Metropolitan universities all reported that their offers have been made “unconditional” in the past few days.  

Last week, York St John University announced that it will “remove academic conditions where possible” as a way to “reassure” students.

Richard Taylor, chief operating officer at Loughborough University, said that converting offers to unconditional is “the equivalent of a chemist jacking paracetamol prices up to a tenner”, adding that it is “unhelpful” for students and teachers.

Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, urged universities to “stand back and hold firm” rather than fuelling panic in students.

He said: “There really doesn’t need to be a rush. If we suddenly have a scramble for people being offered places before there is even a grade, it will just cause more anxiety.”

Ms Donelan said: “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.

“We must also look out for students too, who in these uncertain times may be feeling anxious about their futures.”  

She said students will get the grades they need, and that they should not feel “pressured into making a quick decision” which may not be in their best interests.  

Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of the vice-Chancellor membership group Universities UK, said institutions should not be engaging in “inappropriate admissions practices” which increase “worry and pressure” for students.  

“It is vital that the admissions process remains fair, consistent, and in the best interests of all students – who have a right for their work and performance to date to be fairly reflected,” he said.

“We support today’s call and believe universities will respond positively to ensure that no student feels rushed into a decision at what is already a difficult time.”