Colleges and schools will continue to feel the negative impact of unconditional offers to university if the practice is not carried out responsibly, according to the Association of Colleges.
Her comments come as a report by university admissions body Ucas shows almost two in five students (38%) received at least one unconditional offer this year, compared to a third (34%) last year and just 1 per cent six years ago.
AoC deputy chief executive Kirsti Lord said the increase in unconditional offers in recent years was "a cause for concern; this year is no different". "With almost two in five students now receiving at least one this year the time has come to act," she said.
"The impact on student motivation and achievement during assessments and exams is worrying as students can take their foot off the gas and in the case of some of our most vulnerable students, drop out completely. If the practice of awarding unconditional offers is not carried out responsibly colleges and schools will continue to feel the negative impact.”
Background: 'Unconditional offers are letting students down'
Today’s report from Ucas also reveals that the total number of unconditional offers made to 18-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland this year was 75,845 – almost 8 per cent of all offers. This is up on last year’s 67,915 (7.1% of all offers) and considerably higher than the 2,985 (0.4% of all offers) made in 2013.
In January, The Office for Students suggested universities that pressure students into accepting unconditional offers could face being fined or even deregistered. The OfS warned higher education providers that indiscriminate use of unconditional offers was akin to pressure-selling and could put them in breach of consumer law.
UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said: “Unconditional offers have made a mockery of exams and put teachers under unfair pressure when it comes to predicted grades. Unconditional offers put students under enormous pressure to make a snap decision about their future and can encourage some to take their foot off the gas, instead of striving for excellence.
“The continuing rise of unconditional offers demonstrates the stark failings of our current admissions system. It is time for us to join the rest of the world and adopt a post-qualifications admission system so we can make university offers based on actual achievements instead of guesswork.”
A Department for Education (DfE) spokesman said: "What sets the UK's world-leading universities apart is our relentless focus on quality and this must be protected.
"There is a place for unconditional offers, however, this data highlights the continued rise in their use and we know some students who accept unconditional offers can be more likely to miss their predicted A-level grades. We also have particular concerns about the use of conditional unconditional offers, which can potentially pressure students into accepting a place which may not be the best option for them."
Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, said the use of unconditional offers "remains a complex issue and to evolve". "We look forward to working with the Office for Students (OfS) and Universities UK (UUK) on their respective upcoming admissions practice reviews, to deliver meaningful recommendations."