Universities told to stop unconditional offers amid virus confusion

Hannah Bentley discusses the two-week suspension of unconditional university offers, in response to the coronavirus crisis,.

Hannah Bentley
29th March 2020

UK Universities have been instructed to halt giving unconditional offers to students for the next two weeks.

The cancellation of A level exams this summer, due to the coronavirus outbreak, has generated uncertainty amongst students expecting to attend university in Autumn 2020, due to a potential lack of formal qualifications. The Office for Students, the Department for Education, and Universities UK have strongly advised against universities handing out unconditional offers, where students can be admitted to universities on the basis of predicted grades rather than final results.

The Office for Students has expressed concern that universities could begin to give out unconditional offers in order to guarantee student headcounts for the next academic year. The government has not yet released guidance on whether the exams will eventually take place, prompting speculation about how students will be graded and admitted to universities in September. The two-week embargo on unconditional offers is intended to provide breathing room for the government and exam boards to determine how to facilitate university admissions this year, should exams never be rearranged.

A ‘conditional-unconditional’ offer guarantees students a place on a degree course regardless of their A level results, once the student chooses the university offering it as their firm choice. Popularity of conditional-unconditional offers has been growing, with 1 in 4 18-year-old university applicants receiving one in 2019. The removal of caps on undergraduate places has created a competitive market for students, making some universities desperate to increase their headcount and receive student’s tuition fees. These unconditional offers have been criticised for discouraging disadvantaged students from aiming for top universities.

In 75% of cases, students do not achieve the grades they were predicted

Unconditional offers rely on predicated grades as an indicator for future academic success. However, the Office for Students has highlighted that in 75% of cases, students do not achieve the grades they were predicted. This creates a dilemma for the government and universities in the wake of coronavirus, since students' predicted grades could be inaccurate, despite the fact they are currently being used to decide which universities students are able to attend.

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