Williamson backs ‘worrying’ unconditional offers review

Education secretary backs Office for Students’ university admissions review, including ‘conditional unconditional’ offers

Julia Belgutay

Gavin Williamson has backed an OfS review of university admissions

Education secretary Gavin Williamson has backed a review of university admissions – including the “worrying” rise of unconditional offers.

It comes days after Mr Williamson told the Universities UK conference that he wanted such offers scrapped.

In a letter sent to university regulator the Office for Students today, Mr Williamson said he supported the OfS’ planned review of university admissions, which will, among other things, consider whether students should apply to university after receiving their A-level results.

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He said he would give the OfS his “full backing to boldly use its powers to ensure value for money” and added that he supported OfS plans to look at the recent rise of unconditional offers and whether “conditional unconditional” offers breach consumer law.  

Unconditional offers have become increasingly controversial. This year, their number reached record levels, with the number of pupils receiving offers from universities with no conditions on A level or other results increasing to 38 per cent of applicants, compared with 34 per cent last year.

Unconditional offers hit ‘student motivation and achievement’

Association of Colleges deputy chief executive Kirsti Lord said at the time of the A-level results that the increase in unconditional offers in recent years was “a cause for concern”.

“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,” she added.

In his letter to the OfS, Mr Williamson said higher education had the power to change lives and was “vital to producing the skills our country needs”.

“But this is only the case when students receive a high-quality education and we can be confident of the value of the collective investment from students and taxpayers.”  

He added: “We have to fight to keep the public trust and respect in our world-leading universities and, to me, that means a relentless focus on quality. That’s why I want the OfS to go even further on this, developing more rigorous and demanding quality requirements, and I give my full backing to boldly use its powers to ensure value for money.

“I’m also concerned about how some universities are recruiting students – in particular, a worrying rise in unconditional offers – so I welcome the OfS’ focus on whether ‘conditional unconditional’ offers are harming students’ interests and whether they breach their consumer rights. 

“I recognise that we need to review if the current system is working as well as it can, so I am glad the OfS is looking at whether it would be in students’ interests to apply for their university place after they have their A-level results.”  

On Thursday, the education secretary told UUK conference delegates he was “delighted that some universities have already scrapped making so-called unconditional offers”. “I hope, and I expect, that the rest are going to follow suit."

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Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay

Julia Belgutay is head of FE at Tes

Find me on Twitter @JBelgutay

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