In Brief

Should unconditional university offers be scrapped?

Education leaders call on watchdog to reform system, citing oversubscription to courses

Prospective university students in the UK could be forced to wait until they receive their A-level grades before applying for a course under radical plans aimed at combating the ever-increasing number of unconditional offers based on predicted grades.

A revised system, which would see offers based on exam results, has been floated as one of three options in the Office for Students’ (OFS) official consultation on admissions reform.

According to The Times, university chiefs are “getting behind plans to stop pupils relying on either the often inaccurate predictions by their teachers or unconditional offers that require no A levels at all”.

The Daily Mail reports that a post-qualification scheme would “tackle the rise of ‘attainment offers’ whereby pupils only need to gain low A-level grades such as two Es to secure places”. It adds that teachers have also reported being “placed under pressure from senior staff, students and parents to submit what they believe to be overly ambitious predicted grades”.

The OFS said the current system did “not always work in the interests of students” - namely because in 75% of cases, pupils did not make the grades predicted by schools.

The news is likely to be welcomed by education bosses who have been calling on the OFS to investigate the rise rise in the number of unconditional offers being made to prospective students in the UK over the past decade.

In 2019, a record 37.7% of applicants received an offer with an unconditional component, according to the latest Ucas figures.

Sir Michael Barber, chair of the OfS, said: “There is widespread recognition that certain aspects of the current admissions system are not working, and may be especially unfair on students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“A review of admissions is also being carried out by Universities UK, and UCAS are exploring reforms to the admissions process.”

Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "There is growing support for a shift to a fairer admissions system, where students apply to university after they have received their results.

“This review is the opportunity for us to finally move to a system where university offers are based on actual achievement rather than unreliable estimates of potential.”

However, The Times notes that the university sector “has autonomy over admissions by law” and has “struggled to reform itself, and two previous reviews, in 2006 and 2013, brought no change”.

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