Ben HaywardJuly 2nd
2020

So-called ‘conditional unconditional offers’ are to be temporarily  banned in England, the Office for Students (OfS) has confirmed. 

The higher education regulator is moving ahead with the plans due to ongoing criticism that the practice can be used to unfairly pressure students into accepting places.

Conditional unconditional offers allow institutions to offer a university place regardless of exam results, however the applicant must accept the university as their sole choice.

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The use of these type of offers, viewed as ‘predatory’ by some, has risen rapidly in recent years, reaching a peak this year as the coronavirus lockdown caused increased concern among universities over the potential loss of revenue from tuition fees, reports the Guardian

However the OfS has now said it would impose a new condition threatening fines of up to £500,000 for universities who use offers that are conditional on an applicant accepting it as their sole choice.

The new condition will not be applied retrospectively, meaning that the estimated 30,000 such offers earlier this year will still stand.

OfS chief executive, Nicola Dandridge, said: “Students can also be reassured that they should not expect to have any offers that they have already received withdrawn, and where there are good reasons for them to receive an unconditional or contextual offer in future, there is no reason that this cannot go ahead."

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“This condition is designed to avoid instability during the current uncertainty, and to protect students and the higher education sector in these extraordinary circumstances: it will not continue past September 2021. This should allay concerns that we wanted to extend our powers permanently, which we have no intention of doing.”

However, Michelle Donelan, the universities minister, suggested the ban could last longer.

“There is no justification for conditional unconditional offers and I welcome the strong action against these potentially damaging practices while the sector navigates this uncertain period, and hope to see this continue beyond 2021,” she said in statement.

The National Union of Students (NUS) has thrown its support behind the ban saying that ‘current applicants have less access to information, advice and guidance than students in previous years’.

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The University and College Union (UCU) said it would prefer to move to a system whereby students only apply to universities after receiving their exam results.

“It is time we joined the rest of the world and moved to post-qualification admissions system, where students receive offers after their results, said UCU general secretary, Jo Grady.

“It would eradicate the problems associated with unconditional offers, end the gamble of predicted grades and be much fairer for students.”

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