Downside of giving unconditional offers

Education | 19 Nov 2019

Since the cap on the number of students admitted to university in the UK was lifted in 2015, increasing numbers have been given unconditional offers of a place (one that is guaranteed, and not dependent on exam results).

However, recent research by the Office for Students ( indicates that those given unconditional offers are more likely to drop out after their first year of study. Attrition rates were 10 percent higher than those of students who received conditional offers.

In 2012, one in every 100 students in England received an unconditional offer. By 2018, that number had increased to more than one in three.

The universities that have shown the biggest increase in student numbers include Nottingham Trent, Sheffield Hallam, University of Birmingham and York St John's.

Particularly scathing comments have been made about the so-called conditional unconditional offer, whereby students received a guaranteed place from an institution - but only if they name that institution as their first choice.

Some UK government ministers have accused universities of using unacceptable pressure selling.

In light of the findings, OfS chief executive Nicola Dandridge said: "We know that students who receive an unconditional offer are more likely to miss their predicted grades at school. It is a cause of concern that they are also more likely to drop out of university once they get there.

"We have always been clear that some unconditional offers are necessary and in a student's interests, but many of them are not.

"Although it is up to universities to decide who to admit and how, they must take responsibility for the impact of those decisions and provide the right support for all students to be successful - especially if the offer they receive makes them less likely to do well at school."

The OfS report indicates that unconditional offers erect a safety net that is not necessarily beneficial for students. Students preparing for their exams who already know where they are going to study are now playing for incredibly low stakes. If your immediate future no longer depends on a certain grade, then why strive?

Yet exam results are more than simple a way of filtering students. They create a pressure to achieve, and a sign that a student is ready to meet standards set by a specific university.

This new data indicates that those in receipt of an unconditional offer are often not ready to meet those standards. This discrepancy has very real ramifications.

Tuition fees for international students can run to hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong dollars, depending on the course and university.

There are additional housing and miscellaneous fees. These fees are not always refundable if a student chooses to discontinue their studies. In this case, students are forced to confront failure on a far grander scale and in ways that might have been avoided.

If you have any questions about our column, or the issues raised within it, please e-mail them to us:

Brighten Youth Education Centre

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