What are 'unconditional offers' and why are there calls to ban them?
Unconditional offers do not drive social mobility. Source: Unsplash

There are several conclusions British universities can draw in response to applications: offers of either Conditional or Unconditional, Unsuccessful or Withdrawn.

Naturally, the most sought-after is the “unconditional offer”. This means you’ve basically secured a spot at the university you’ve applied to, barring a few other administrative or financial arrangements you may have to make later on.

Unlike its close cousin – the conditional offer – this means your exam results will not affect whether or not you get accepted. Unsurprisingly, receiving such an offer can inspire great relief and joy from the anxious applicant.

A recent post in weekly publication TES, however, calls for unconditional offers to be banned.

Recounting a meeting with a former GCSE student – in which the student had accepted an unconditional offer despite having a conditional offer from a Russell Group institution – Andrew Otty argues unconditional offers “damages” social mobility:

“From his point of view, an unconditional offer was a certainty he could bank on.

“From my point of view, unconditional offers damage social mobility by tempting cautious disadvantaged students to take up places at universities struggling to fill their seats, while wealthier risk takers snatch up Russell Group and Oxbridge places, perpetuating the economic divide.”

Imperial graduates go on to earn a lot more. Source: Shutterstock

Otty refers to the graduate outcomes associated with the university the ex-student had accepted:

“The “elsewhere” was a post-1992 uni that will, in theory, see him earning £4,000 per year less than the place he declined.”

Data from the Institute of Fiscal Studies reveals that the institute you graduate from and the subject you pursued heavily influence how much you earn later on.

“Different institutions and subject combinations have vastly different impacts on the earnings of their graduates, and despite common perceptions to the contrary, can matter more for earnings than student characteristics on entry to university.”

“Russell Group universities increase earnings by around 10% more than the average degree. The very top universities – LSE, Oxford and Imperial – increase earnings by more than 50% more than the average degree. ”

Otty is not the first to raise the issues surrounding unconditional offers. Universities have been accused of using unconditional offers to attract students for their own personal gain, ie. securing student fees of more than £9,000 a year regardless of the detriment this could pose to some.

In 2015/17, more than 50,000 unconditional offers were made, an increase of 14,000 than the year before. In the last four years, these offers have increased seventeen-fold.

UCAS Head, Clare Marchant, told The Independent last year that it’s time for the sector to have an “open and honest” debate about the issue, deeming the surge in unconditional offers made a major “concern”.

Universities defend their move, calling it part of their efforts to widen access while stating there is “no evidence” that the system causes poor pupil performance

Universities UK, a representative body for the nation’s HE sector, said:

“It is simply not in the interests of universities to take students without the potential to succeed at university.”

The new Office of Students (OfS) has been tasked to investigate the sharp rise in unconditional university offers, after school heads complained that it was “undermining” schools and pupils are making less effort during their final year.

The OfS is expected to report back at the end of this year and said it will “take action” if unconditional offers are found to adversely affect pupils.

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