One-fifth of the country’s largest universities last year made “strings attached” unconditional offers, which have been likened to pressure selling, new Ucas data shows.
At the University of Roehampton, these controversial ‘conditional unconditional offers’ accounted for nearly two-thirds of all offers made to 18-year-olds – the highest proportion in the country.
A conditional unconditional offer is an offer of a place made by a university to an applicant that only becomes unconditional if an applicant makes it their firm choice.
They claimed the practice could force students to plump for a university lower down their list of choices simply because they have been made an unconditional offer, rather than taking a chance on another institution that might be better suited to them.
And last week the Office for Students (OfS) said it could fine universities using the practice without justification.
Nicola Dandridge, the chief executive of the OfS, said such “strings attached” unconditional offers “are akin to pressure-selling”.
Today’s Ucas data shows that of the UK’s 140 largest higher education institutions, there were 29 where conditional unconditional offers accounted for 1 per cent or more of all their offers to 18-year old students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scottish students usually receive unconditional offers because they apply with their Highers results).
For 10 providers, conditional unconditional offers accounted for at least 30 per cent of all offers. These were:
- University of Roehampton (65.8 per cent)
- Loughborough College (57 per cent)
- Kingston University (46.4 per cent)
- Sheffield Hallam University (40.8 per cent)
- University of Brighton (40 per cent)
- Birmingham City University (39.9 per cent)
- Nottingham Trent University (39.9 per cent)
- Bournemouth University (39.3 per cent)
- Staffordshire University (39.1 per cent)
- University of Hertfordshire (30.3 per cent)
In total, 7.4 per cent of all offers made by English providers in 2018 to 18-year-old applicants were identified as being conditional unconditional.
The increase in conditional unconditional offers is part of a wider trend for universities to make unconditional offers.
According to the Ucas data, there were 87 providers (62 per cent of the largest providers) in 2018 where the number of offers with an unconditional component accounted for at least 1 per cent of all offers made.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “We are aware of the pressure on universities but what we are witnessing appears to be some sort of arms race in the use of unconditional offers as a marketing tool.
“Universities must think very carefully before making unconditional offers and we would particularly urge them to desist from making conditional unconditional offers.”
A spokesperson from the University of Roehampton said: “We are determined that all of our admissions policies and practices are in the interests of students and compliant with consumer protection legislation.
“We regularly review our admissions policy and consult our students annually on their experience of applying to us. This year 95 per cent of our applicants were happy with their experience of applying to the university*.
“We are committed to supporting both prospective and current students and we offer a wide range of initiatives and support schemes, including a scholarship programme for high-achieving students."