Education secretary Gavin Williamson has called on universities to scrap incentivised unconditional offers for A-level students.
The offers mean that students can gain a university place regardless of them achieving certain grades in their A levels – on the condition that the student confirms that they will make the institution their first choice.
Mr Williamson told the Universities UK (UUK) conference in Birmingham that the number of these offers had "shot up", with nearly 76,000 made this year compared with under 3,000 in 2013.
In his speech, he told vice-chancellors: "I'm 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."
Controversy over unconditional offers
He added that reviews of admissions by UUK and the universities regulator, the Office for Students (OfS), were "an opportunity for the sector to get its house in order, perhaps by agreeing a minimum predicted grade threshold or a maximum proportion of students who may be offered one".
In her speech to the conference, Professor Julia Buckingham, president of UUK, said that a review of university admissions was underway, which "aims to build greater levels of transparency, trust and public understanding in admissions practices".
The practice of making unconditional offers has been widely criticised, including by education charity the Sutton Trust, which said pupils’ motivation can be affected
On A-level results day this year, one sixth form teacher told Tes how her school was tackling pupil apathy caused by unconditional offers – by pointing out that universities can still change their minds about offering a place.
“We showed them the small print, which says that if a whole raft of students come through with better grades then a university can withdraw an offer,” says Lianne Riley-Gough, assistant head of sixth form at Chalk Hills Academy in Luton.
Chalk Hills headteacher Louise Lee said: “It’s right that a number of universities are under scrutiny for the methods they employ to try to engage students to study with them because they need to make money.
“But I would like to see a rethink because, normally, if you really want to attain something you have to work for it.
“And the information students study at A level can often be essential in their future careers.”