No strings attached: Birmingham extends unconditional offers to lure high-flyers

Admissions officers are privately predicting others may follow the example

One of the country's leading universities is to increase the number of unconditional offers of places it make to students in an attempt to attract more high-flyers.

A pilot scheme mounted at Birmingham University this year saw more than 300 high-achieving students snapping up places at the university.

With competition between universities being stepped up now the Government is allowing them to recruit extra students provided that have at least an A and two B grade passes at A-levels, admissions officers are privately predicting others may follow Birmingham's example.

The decision to increase the number of unconditional offers follows information that students are more likely to accept a place if they are made an unconditional offer - the percentage of acceptances rose from about a quarter to just over a third.

Only a few of those accepting unconditional offers then went on to fail to score highly in their A-levels, the university found.

"There were one or two who crashed and burned or took their foot off the accelerator," said Roderick Smith, director of admissions at Birmingham. "But we came to the conclusion that it was a risk that we could take." Checks on GCSE and AS-level performance had minimised the risk.

Critics have claimed that it may benefit applicants from private schools who are more likely to be predicted to get high grades at A-level but Mr Smith said that the pilot "did not skew the socio-economic background of our students".

Meanwhile, fewer teenagers scored at least five A* to C grade passes at GCSE including maths and English, according to a breakdown of the results.

It showed the figure had fallen from 59.4 per cent to 58.6 per cent.  One of the reasons could be a decline in the number of private school pupils sitting the exams - and opting for alternatives to the GCSE instead.