St. Mary’s University has announced that it will no longer be giving out unconditional offers
The decision was taken after it became clear to them that many students who were given such offers were not meeting the predicted grades. It cites wanting to ensure that the university is maintaining entry standards as the main motivation
St. Mary’s is unlikely to be the only university reviewing its scheme after UCAS announced that from January next year, it will be naming the universities giving out the most unconditional offers. Among others, Loughborough University already does not offer them and the University of Chichester will also stop making unconditional offers.
For the 2018-2019 academic year, almost a quarter of university applicants in England, Wales and Northern Ireland were given an unconditional offer (equating to nearly 70,000). This is an increase of 17% from 2017 and a huge increase from 2013 when less than 5% of applicants received an unconditional offer (fewer than 3,000). St. Mary’s University only introduced unconditional offers last year, giving out 499 of them, but have concluded it is not worth pursuing further.
Sam Gyimah MP, Universities Minister at the time, supported their decision, stating that giving out unconditional offers simply to make up numbers ‘damages the credibility’ of the university system. Sally Hunt, General Secretary of the University and College Union, added that unconditional offers ‘make a mockery’ of exams and can encourage students to make snap decisions about their futures, choosing a university they may not have otherwise.
Unconditional offers have long been controversial. Lancaster University, on their Excellence Scholarship scheme, even offers varying amounts of money (£1,000-£4,000) to unconditional offer holders who still achieve the highest grade brackets, raising the question of whether a conditional offer could instead act as the incentive for high achievement.
One concern often voiced is that unconditional offers can stunt ambition, removing any motivation for these university applicants to strive for the best possible A-Level results. Sam Yearley, who graduated from UoB in 2018 with an English Literature with Creative Writing degree explains: ‘I think my unconditional offer was the result of a very strong personal statement, as well as good GCSE grades […] It helped that I was also predicted to get AAA, the grade requirement for my course. I was never very good at exams, so getting the unconditional offer reduced my motivation and my final A-Levels were lower than I should have got.’
However, unconditional offers can be a fair exchange for bright students who may particularly struggle with exams or whose A-Level exam performance is not a true representation of their overall ability and work ethic. Yearley adds: ‘I’m so grateful for that unconditional offer because it meant my inability to do exams didn’t hold me back. I graduated with a 2:1 in the end which I feel really validated my right to be at UoB.’
UoB details on its website that its unconditional offer scheme – launched in 2013 when it offered 1,200 unconditional offers across 12 subjects – allows it to ‘target the very brightest students in certain subject areas, who demonstrate exceptional academic performance in their schooling to date.’ With the number of unconditional offers having constantly increased in recent years, questions are evidently being asked about their credibility country-wide and UoB, too, may be pushed to reassess its scheme this January.