OfS bans 'conditional unconditional' offers to HE

Any higher education provider in breach of the rules will face fines up to half a million pounds, says the Office for Students
3rd July 2020, 12:02am


OfS bans 'conditional unconditional' offers to HE

Conditional Unconditional Offers Banned By Ofs

Higher education providers have been banned from offering 'conditional unconditional' offers until the end of September, the Office for Students has announced. 

If providers fail to comply with the new rule, they could receive a fine of up to half a million pounds. 

The new condition from the OfS also permits universities to make contextual offers - where students from disadvantaged or underrepresented groups are admitted with lower grades than the advertised entry requirements, in recognition of the varying contexts in which results are achieved. 

'Damaging practices'

A 'conditional unconditional' offer is conditional at the point of offer and is then made unconditional if the applicant selects the institution as their firm choice.

Universities minister Michelle Donelan welcomed the move against what she called "potentially damaging practices". She said: "There is no justification for conditional unconditional offers and I welcome the strong action against these potentially damaging practices while the sector navigates this uncertain period, and hope to see this continue beyond 2021.  

"I do not want students to be taken advantage of and feel pressured into making a major life decision that might not be right for them. The OfS and government are working closely together to tackle low-quality higher education and stamp out bad practices such as conditional unconditional offers."

Investigation: Unconditional offers made by colleges up by 60%

MoreFall in 'conditional unconditional' offers predicted

Opinion: 'Unconditional offers leave colleges open to criticism'

The new rule was first mooted in an OfS consultation in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The OfS said a sharp increase in conditional unconditional offers in recent years had prompted concerns that these offers could destabilise the system, and put undue pressure on students to accept an easy offer that may not be in their best interests.

While more common among universities, a Tes investigation earlier this year found that the number of unconditional offers made by colleges had risen by 60 per cent in six years, and that in the 2019-20 admissions cycle, 40 colleges made offers with some sort of unconditional component. Data from admissions service Ucas said that in 2019, 64,825 students received at least one of these offers. 

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, said that the ban on conditional unconditional offers was necessary to ensure the stability and integrity of the English higher education sector, to protect students' interests and to preserve a diversity of choice for students into the future.

She said: "Students can also be reassured that they should not expect to have any offers that they have already received withdrawn, and where there are good reasons for them to receive an unconditional or contextual offer in future, there is no reason that this cannot go ahead.

"This condition is designed to avoid instability during the current uncertainty, and to protect students and the higher education sector in these extraordinary circumstances: it will not continue past September 2021. This should allay concerns that we wanted to extend our powers permanently, which we have no intention of doing."

A spokesperson for the NUS students' union said it was welcome that the decision had 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".

"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."

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Register for free to read more

You can read two more articles on Tes for free this month if you register using the button below.

Alternatively, you can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters

Already registered? Log in

You’ve reached your limit of free articles this month

Subscribe to read more

You can subscribe for just £1 per month for the next three months and get:

  • Unlimited access to all Tes magazine content
  • Exclusive subscriber-only articles 
  • Email newsletters