Top schools call for end to unconditional offers

Posted: 4th October 2018

At the risk of sounding like a ‘scratched record’, I cannot for the life of me understand why universities are so entrenched in their opposition to post qualification applications.

Today’s headline in The Times expresses the frustration of many independent school Heads at the increasing trend of offering places to applicants through unconditional offers. The argument is that, having been offered an unconditional place, students take their foot ‘off the gas’ and achieve less than optimum results.The reasons behind this growing trend are quite clear. There is now increasing competition between universities for the most able students. They get their funding from tuition fees and there is no limit to the number of students they can take as long as they attain AAB grades in their A levels. So, those who are predicted AAB, or better, may get unconditional offers to entice them onto the courses.

As long ago as 2010 UCAS proposed a rethink to the application process. They proposed that “A-level exams would be brought forward by 15 days, results published in early July before schools break up for the summer holidays, and the university term would start no earlier than 8 October.” Despite being greeted with considerable enthusiasm by most observers, the plan never got past the drawing board.

The university application system must be rethought. It leads to a multitude of issues including not only this rise in unconditional offers but also grade inflation as the pressure rises for pupils to gain every higher grades. It might also be worth considering the length of degrees; many students have only a few hours of teaching each week and are taking out vast loans to fund their courses. It is entirely possible that most of these degrees could be taught in two years rather than three. It is about time that we stopped just making proposals and took some actions.