DfE won't name unis making 'damaging' A-level offers

Social mobility charity calls for greater transparency over which universities are continuing to make 'conditional unconditional' offers

Catherine Lough


The Department for Education has refused to name which universities are continuing to make “string attached” unconditional offers, where universities offer pupils a guaranteed undergraduate place as long as they are selected as the candidate’s first option.

The practice has been criticised for preventing students from exploring alternatives. Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Office for Students, has likened them to a form of “pressure-selling”.

Related: How heads feel about ‘strings attached’ unconditional offers

News: Hinds tells unis to stop 'unethical' strings-attached offers

Revealed: The universities that make ‘strings attached’ unconditional offers

In April, then education secretary Damian Hinds wrote to 23 universities asking them to stop making these offers, which he described as an “unethical practice”.

He said “conditional unconditional” offers were “harming students’ grades in order to fill places” and “damaging the reputation of the institutions involved”.

And some headteachers have spoken about how the practice has a negative impact on pupils' results and motivation.

However, the Department for Education will not confirm which of the 23 universities are continuing to make these offers, as they do not wish to “victimise” particular institutions.

They have confirmed that since Mr Hinds’ letter, 20 of the 23 institutions have indicated that they have either ceased, will cease, or will review their offer-making practices, but have said they will not reveal the three remaining universities that have not yet engaged.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “Conditional unconditional offers put undue pressure on young people to accept a place at that university. This is a serious problem for access. The risk is that teenagers get locked into a university place that might not be the best choice for them.”

“The government has been absolutely right to crack down on their practice. And while it is good that many universities have stopped using them, we need much more transparency around the handful that continue to do so.”

“Students, teachers and parents must be well-informed about the implications of accepting such offers, so that they’re able to make the best decision for them.”

“We want to move to a post-qualification applications system where students apply only after they have received their A-level results. This does away with predicted grades and unconditional offers. 

"Having actual grades on application empowers the student. They can pick the right course at the right university with a high degree of certainty they are making the right choice.”

According to Ucas data, this year a quarter of applicants to UK universities received "conditional unconditional offers".

And last year the admissions service found that students who accepted unconditional offers, whether conditional or not, were 7-13 per cent more likely to miss their predicted A levels by two grades than their peers with conditional offers.

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