A-level results day: Fears grow over unconditional university offers as some students stop attending school

‘We expect the Office for Students to take appropriate action over unconditional offers’

Eleanor Busby
Education Correspondent
Saturday 18 August 2018 15:25
Comments
A-level results day: The most common questions answered

Fears about the rising use of unconditional offers by universities are growing after it emerged that some A-level students stopped going to school once they’d secured a guaranteed place at university.

Ministers are looking to clamp down on universities that are irresponsibly handing out places on degree courses to sixth-formers in a bid to put “bums on seats”, regardless of their A-level grades.

A government source told the i that education secretary Damian Hinds held meetings on A-level results day with senior figures from universities watchdog the Office for Students and Ucas.

The Department for Education (DfE) said it expects the regulator “to take appropriate action”.

Recent figures from Ucas show that nearly a quarter of 18-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were handed at least one guaranteed place on a degree course regardless of their grades.

Almost 68,000 unconditional offers were made this year, compared to less than 3,000 five years ago, the data reveals.

Headteachers have renewed calls for an end to the practice after it emerged this week that some schools had seen their A-level pass rates fall dramatically as a result of a rise in unconditional offers.

Sir John Rowling, chair of Partners in Excellence (Pixl), a network of schools in England and Wales, told Tes that some students were not going to school after they received the offers.

One school in the north of England saw its pass rate (A* to E grades) drop from 74 per cent last year to just 14 per cent this year – with 40 students being handed unconditional offers.

The proportion of students gaining pass grades at A-level nationally dropped to its lowest point in eight years amid concerns that unconditional offers and exam reforms would have an impact.

A DfE spokesperson said: “Giving out unconditional places just to put ‘bums on seats’ not only undermines the credibility of the university system but does students a disservice by distracting them from their studies and swaying their decisions.

“We are concerned about the rise in unconditional offers. The Office for Students is closely monitoring the number being issued and we fully expect it as the regulator to take appropriate action.”

Speaking to The Independent about unconditional offers ahead of results day, Michael Barber, chair of the Office for Students, said: “Some universities seem to be lowering the tariff because they are worried about not recruiting enough students.

“I think the sector needs to think about this very hard.”

There was intense competition among universities to attract students this year.

Figures released on Thursday by Ucas showed the total number of students accepted onto courses was down 1 per cent compared with the same point in 2017.

However, the proportion of 18-year-olds being accepted on to courses broke records.

In an exclusive interview with The Independent earlier this year, Ucas boss Clare Marchant called for an urgent rethink on universities using unconditional offers across the board.

Universities minister Sam Gyimah has previously branded the rise in unconditional offers as “irresponsible” and has warned that the practice could undermine the credibility of the system.

And on Thursday, Mr Hinds said he was “concerned” about the rate of growth in these offers.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in