A number of universities have pledged to stop making controversial "conditional unconditional" offers, the education secretary has said.
Damian Hinds said that eight universities had promised to stop giving the “strings-attached” offers, and that a further seven were reviewing their admissions practices.
However, when asked by Tes to identify the institutions in question, the Department for Education only said it had “permission” to name two of them.
Conditional unconditional offers guarantee school students a place, but only if they put the university concerned as their first option, in effect preventing them from exploring alternatives.
The Office for Students has said that such “strings attached” offers “are akin to pressure-selling", and the DfE has said they could breach consumer protection laws.
University offers 'like pressure selling'
Last year, a fifth of UK universities made such offers, according to Ucas data. Students who accepted unconditional offers, whether "conditional" or not, were 7 per cent more likely to miss their predicted A levels by two grades than students with conditional offers.
Today, the DfE announced that eight of the universities contacted “have stopped or will stop offering” conditional unconditional offers, while seven more will “review admissions practices”.
Of the 23 universities challenged on their use of the offers, 19 have so far written back to the education secretary. The DfE said these included four that "haven’t said they will either end conditional unconditional offers or review their practices" and "haven’t already taken or committed to those actions... at this point yet".
Mr Hinds said: “Prospective students should have a choice of where they study, but ‘conditional unconditional’ offers entice them to restrict their choices, in favour of one university. I maintain this is bad practice: bad in the end for both students and universities, and urge universities using them to stop.
“While I am pleased that many university leaders are taking the issue seriously, it is a shame there are still some trying to justify practices which are damaging the integrity of our higher education and students’ interests.
“I make no apology for speaking out as I have done. I could not stand idly by watching questionable practices spread and educational standards slide. Universities are making billions of pounds in public funds, as well as students’ own contributions, and I have a responsibility also to sixth-form teachers, who want all their students to have the same incentive to reach their best.
"It is my job to make sure the education system works to help everyone make the most of their potential, and I am not afraid to get my hands dirty for this.”
However, when asked for the names of the 15 universities that had made commitments, a DfE spokesperson said it only had the “permission” to name two of them – the University of Derby and Middlesex University.
They said Derby had committed to ending conditional unconditional offers from 2020 onwards, while Middlesex had pledged to review its offer-making practices.
Mr Hinds also welcomed a decision by PayPal to stop processing payments for online essay-writing services, and a commitment by universities to tackle degree grade inflation.