Universities may be fined due to an increased use of unconditional offers as a pressurising means to
lure in students. Unconditional offers are those which are not dependant on the achievement of a
specific set of A level grades. The total number of such offers to 18-year-olds throughout the UK rose
from 3,000 in 2013 to 117,000 in 2018.
The Office for Students (OfS) claims that unconditional offers pressurise students to accept, and may
be a breach of consumer law. Universities may be fined for the mass use of such offers, or lose their
4% of students applying to universities last year received an unconditional offer. The volume of
unconditional offers granted varies depending on the type of institution. Universities with lower
grade requirements are likely to make unconditional offers, whereas, universities requiring high A
level grades are significantly less likely to make such offers. Just 0.4% of the offers made by
Newcastle University last year were unconditional, the lowest of the Russell Group Universities.
A Newcastle University spokesperson said: "This year, we made a very small number of
unconditional offers to exceptional students who we believe will flourish at Newcastle University.
We only make unconditional offers in a selected number of subject areas on the basis of applicants
meeting specific criteria.”
There are two types of unconditional offers, those with no conditions, and those that are only valid if
the university is listed as the individual’s first choice- conditional unconditional offers. The latter is
criticised by OfS as a “pressure selling practice.” Unconditional offers dependant on specific terms
may be accepted by capable students with the potential to achieve higher, due to a concern that
they may not meet the conditions of other offers.
The security of a university place irrespective of grades may enable students to take some pressure
off themselves in preparation for examinations, impacting their achievement. OfS researchers found
that those who accepted an unconditional offer were more likely to miss their predicted grades, by
two or more grades. Chief executive of The Office for Students, Nicola Dandridge, says that
unconditional offers can pressurise students to “accept an offer that may not be their best option."
She further explains that the OfS would be prepared to intervene in situations where unconditional
offers are having “an obvious negative impact on students' choices or outcomes”.
Chief executive of the MillionPlus group of universities, Greg Walker, said that these types of offer
were necessary to the system, a means by which to offer equal opportunities regardless of social
background. As lower socio- economic status usually means lower prior attainment, “using
unconditional offers to support students with the potential to succeed is a valid and necessary
approach to enable social equality”, he said.
The OfS will continue to monitor the use of unconditional offers and take action where necessary,
imposing fines on universities, and even threatening deregistration.