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Huge rise in unconditional university offers for students

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There has been a huge rise in the number of unconditional offers being made to students for university places, admissions service Ucas says.The total made to 18-year-olds from England, Northern Ireland, and Wales has risen by 65,930 over the past five years - from 2,985 in 2013 to 67,915 in 2018.This means nearly a quarter (23%) of applicants received such an offer.The government said the situation was "irresponsible to students".In total, 7.1% of all offers made to students this year were unconditional, meaning a degree course place is secured regardless of the grades they achieve.
The data comes as the cap on the number of students a university can admit has been lifted and the population of 18-year-olds is falling. This is the first time Ucas has analysed offer-making patterns during an application cycle, and is part of the service's ongoing commitments to "ensure transparency throughout the admissions process".
How have universities responded"Unconditional offers, when used appropriately, can help students and ensure that universities are able to respond flexibly to the range of applicants seeking places."Universities UK will continue to work with Ucas to monitor trends and any impact unconditional offer-making might have on student attainment."It is simply not in the interests of universities to take students without the potential to succeed."
How has the government responded?
Universities Minister Sam Gyimah said: "The rise in unconditional offers is completely irresponsible to students, and universities must start taking a lead, by limiting the number they offer. "Places at universities should only be offered to those who will benefit from them, and giving out unconditional offers just to put 'bums on seats' undermines the credibility of the university system. "Along with the Office for Students, I am closely monitoring the number being issued and fully expect the regulator to take appropriate action. "Unconditional offers risk distracting students from the final year of their schooling, and swaying their decisions does them a disservice - universities must act in the interest of students, not in filling spaces."
How have the unions responded?
The University and College Union said unconditional offers made a mockery of exams and put students "under enormous pressure to make snap decisions about their future". UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said: "The proliferation of unconditional offers is detrimental to the interests of students and it is time the UK joined the rest of the world in basing university offers on actual achievements instead of on guesswork."Unconditional offers can also encourage talented students to take their foot off the gas, instead of striving for excellence."The Association of School and College Leaders urged universities to stop the practice of unconditional offers. General secretary Geoff Barton said: "This huge increase in unconditional offers is driven by competition between universities and is not in the best interests of students."It can lead to students making less effort in their A-levels because their place is assured. That can then hamper their job prospects later down the line if potential employers take into account their A-level grades."We urge universities to desist from making unconditional offers as an inducement and we urge students to make their choice on the basis of the course which best suits their needs."
What is an unconditional offer?
When universities make an offer to prospective students, the offer can either be conditional or unconditional. A conditional offer usually specifies the grades a student needs to achieve in their A-levels, BTecs, or any other relevant qualification, before they are fully accepted on to a course.
Unconditional offers do not have any further academic requirements the student needs to meet - in other words, the place is guaranteed before exams are even taken.Ucas says they have, traditionally, been offered to:
mature students who have already achieved their qualifications to meet entry criteria
those applying for creative arts courses, after submitting a portfolio, or following a successful interview or audition. Artistic flair is likely to be viewed as a better indication of potential than traditional grades
reduce the stress some students may feel during the high-pressure exam period, supporting students with mental health difficulties
as one of the many different approaches universities use to attract and retain interest from students in a competitive marketplace
What advice does Ucas offer students?
Ucas director of external relations, Helen Thorne, said students should take the time to carefully think about all their options fully before accepting an unconditional offer. "Information and advice on the Ucas website highlights the key points students need to think about before accepting any offer. "While unconditional offers are made for a number of reasons, we believe that universities should always emphasise to students the importance of completing their studies to the best of their abilities. "This will help make sure they're well-prepared for their degree course, and for future employment. "Later this year, we'll be publishing more detailed analysis of offer-making, including any impact on students' attainment."
What about students in Scotland?
These figures from Ucas do not include students from Scotland.Ucas said: "In Scotland, a substantial proportion of students aged 18 who apply through Ucas undergraduate, have already attained SQA Highers and met the academic requirements to enter higher education. "Therefore, students from Scotland are not included in this analysis."
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