Hinds demands end to 'unethical' unconditional offers

The education secretary has warned 23 universities regarding their use of “unethical” unconditional offers, following warnings that school pupils are being “backed into a corner” to accept places.

Increased competition for students in the higher education sector has led to a spike in the use of unconditional offers.

Conditional unconditional offers are damaging the reputation of the institutions involved and our world-leading sector as a whole

Admissions authority UCAS warned last November that one in three school pupils received an offer with some kind of unconditional element in 2018.

Ministers are particularly concerned about “conditional unconditional” offers, whereby a university initially requires pupils to meet certain entry criteria to gain a place, but then drops those conditions once a pupil names the university as their first choice.

Damian Hinds has now commissioned a full review of university admissions. It will be carried out by the Office for Students, the universities regulator, which warned in January that the practice could even be illegal.

Damian Hinds

Hinds has already expressed his dismay about the use of the offers, which are of concern to headteachers because they undermine the incentive for pupils to do well in their A-levels.

Today, he went a step further, writing to 23 universities that are known to use conditional unconditional offers, ordering them to stop doing so.

“It is simply unacceptable for universities to adopt pressure-selling tactics, which are harming students’ grades in order to fill places,” the minister said. “It is not what I expect to see from our world-class higher education institutions.

“Conditional unconditional offers are damaging the reputation of the institutions involved and our world-leading sector as a whole. That is why I will be writing to 23 universities, urging them to stamp out this unethical practice.”