Data released by UCAS has revealed that some 78.8 per cent of York St. John’s University’s offers in 2018 were for unconditional places. Offers of this kind are not unusual with approximately one in three students receiving an unconditional offer in 2018; York St. John joins a group of universities who gave the majority of unconditional offers in 2018, such as the University of Birmingham, Brighton and Nottingham Trent.
The use of these types of offer has been criticized by some academics and the office for Students (OfS) who claim that it is not something necessarily in the best interest of students; the unconditional offer means that a student’s A-Level results become irrelevant and they are granted entry to a university regardless of their most recent academic performance.
The OfS has haughtily expressed a wish that universities reduce the frequency that these kinds of offers are handed out, and a spokesman acknowledged that even if there may be good reasons for these offers being given out to specific students, they would like to see a broader change in the approach of Universities. UCAS claims that they have issued guides to universities on giving out unconditional offers in a ‘responsible’ fashion, but it remains to be seen how much they have heeded this advice.
York St. John has responded in a statement delivered by a spokesman, saying: “Our students, many of whom come from backgrounds that are underrepresented in universities, report a positive university experience, high levels of support and enjoy strong employment out-comes’’. The University also claimed that they would reduce their number of unconditional offers in 2019 by half.
Despite promising a decrease in these kind of offers, York St. John has defended their offers practice vehemently, stating that their new 2019 approach will incorporate a new ‘contextual offer’ scheme that will deliberately target students who face the greatest barriers to higher education. They claim that the unconditional offers are given based on the students’ predicted grades in the run-up to A-levels and are not designed to sway students’ choices on which university to pick as their first choice.
The University claims that the use of unconditional offers in the past has reduced stress for students in the run up to their A-level exams, and that there is no marked difference in academic performance between students in their first year who received such an offer compared to those who did not. For some, unconditional offers are a potentially strange proposal since they are given out sometimes nearly a full year before a student has chosen to start at a university, effectively rendering a student’s final exam performance redundant. The measures being taken to reduce them for 2019 mark a step towards a potentially more inclusive offer system that distributes unconditional offers to students in genuine need of them.
The debate comes off the back of comments made by the Secretary
of State for Education, Damian Hinds, made in November 2018, where he described
the rise in unconditional offers as being ‘disturbing’ to him and suggested
that more serious sanctions would have to be imposed should the practice continue.
Whether or not the comments made by the OfS signal a start to these hard-lying
sanctions remains to be seen.