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The end of unconditional offers for university places?

Discussion in 'Education news' started by Shedman, Nov 1, 2018.

  1. Shedman

    Shedman Star commenter


    A London university has said it is stopping making unconditional offers to would-be students, to ensure it maintains its entry standards.

    St Mary's University, Twickenham, took the decision after discovering some students, given unconditional offers, did not get their predicted grades.

    If St Mary's university had asked me, I could have told them years ago that for some students, giving them an unconditional offer of a university place regardless of exam results , is saying very loudly and clearly, 'YOU DON'T NEED TO DO ANY MORE WORK'. And, of course, some will take this advice very readily.

    Unconditional offers:
    • Mean some students give up working hard and so the school's exam results take a hit
    • Leave some students with poorer A-level results and these could be a deciding factor in which candidate gets a plum job
    • Undermine some students' working practices and ethics in that they don't see the point in working hard
    • Leave some students less well prepared for a university course because the got poorer A-level results leading to...
    • The university's degree grades falling because they demotivated students at A-level and some new entrants were poorly equipped.
    Shouldn't all universities drop unconditional offers for everybody's sake?
  2. SomethingWicked

    SomethingWicked Occasional commenter

    I broadly agree with you that unconditional offers are a net negative to society, but I think for individuals there is a non-trivial benefit. Chiefly, I suspect the mental health of students (and to a more limited degree, teachers*) is improved under an unconditional system. This forum is littered with threads complaining about the lack of provision for even basic mental health services, so increasing the stress for teenagers by hinging the trajectory of their life on a single day's exams seems a bit counter-productive. Remember, that for at least four consecutive years now, these kids have known nothing other than preparing for high-stakes exams - that sort of long-term anxiety takes its toll.

    Despite all this, for the reasons you've outlined above, I largely agree with you that unconditional offers should be reduced in scope**.

    *I accept this a double-edged sword as teachers are held to account for their classes' grades, but knowing a kid will go to study their favourite subject at uni no matter their exam results takes the pressure off staff at least somewhat.

    **Mature students for example, who already have the requisite grades, obviously should continue to get unconditional offers.
    Shedman likes this.
  3. install

    install Star commenter

    I agree - the rise in Unconditional offers is disturbing and undermines many University Courses and A level grades.

    Time to ban them for the majority who have not sat their exams yet..:cool:
  4. geographyrox

    geographyrox New commenter

    It’s a funny one. At my school a sizeable (and growing) minority of students will have an unconditional offer for a US university, and it really does have an effect on a number (not all) of them in terms of final A level motivation, with a number underperforming.

    Having said that, in many ways them getting into the university they want is a more important achievement than their A level grades, and it seems somewhat selfish of teachers concerned with their own stats to complain about it. It seems a shame to see pupils underperform, but if they get what they want out of school isnt that enough?
    phlogiston and Shedman like this.
  5. jarndyce

    jarndyce Occasional commenter

    The trouble is, those A Level grades are likely to be on their CV for years to come.

    If a company wants to differentiate between applicants on academic grounds, and they both have a 2:i from a university of a similar standard, would they not favour the candidate with AAB at A Level over the candidate with BCC?
    Catgirl1964 and Shedman like this.
  6. Shedman

    Shedman Star commenter

    Precisely the point I tried to make when I wrote

    jarndyce likes this.
  7. MrMedia

    MrMedia Star commenter

    Why do you automatically assume that a student won’t work hard at A level with an unconditional offer? It brings security in terms of their future and they can still work hard towards their grades without the cliff edge high risk. If anything, it means schools have to work on intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivation which is far better for the pupils in the long term.
    agathamorse likes this.
  8. Doitforfree

    Doitforfree Star commenter

    If a student who is going to university is only going to work because it will get them marks in an exam then they really shouldn't be going to university.
    monicabilongame and agathamorse like this.
  9. phlogiston

    phlogiston Star commenter


    "A school in the north of England has seen a dramatic drop in the number of A level passes after students received an "amazing" number of unconditional offers, Tes has been told.

    A school in the north of England where students received an "amazing" number of unconditional offers has seen a dramatic drop in A level passes, Tes has been told.

    The results were reported by the school to Partners in Excellence (PiXL) – the largest network of schools in England and Wales.

    Sir John Rowling, chair of PiXL, ....told Tes there had been "an amazing number of unconditional offers" at the school, but results had "gone hugely downwards, with some kids not even going to school after they received the unconditional offers".

    One student had achieved a place on a degree course after achieving two Us and an E, he said."

    I suppose I had the next best thing to an unconditional offer back in the '70s - 2Es to go to a fairly prestigious university. It didn't occur to me to start dossing around though and the university I really wanted to go to needed higher grades.

    I can see it from both points of view. The cynical side of me wonders if some universities just want to trouser a year's tuition fees from a student who won't wear out the study facilities. I think that some provisos like attendance ought to be part of an unconditional offer.
  10. install

    install Star commenter

    There is another element now of course too: money in the bag and students paying. It is unsettling that the number of Unconditional offers has risen along with students paying for their Courses.

    It sounds very much like guaranteed entry on a huge scale now - regardless of actual grades. Predicted A Level Grades also take on a new meaning if those 'Predictions' have more value than the A levels themselves ..:eek:
    Last edited: Nov 1, 2018
  11. Shedman

    Shedman Star commenter

    I've had these characters in the classes I've taught. The student who holds an unconditional offer sat there taunting others less 'fortunate' and refusing to do any meaningful work. It hasn't been all students but some have been a big enough distraction and malign influence in the group to unsettle and cause resentment amongst the others.
  12. MrMedia

    MrMedia Star commenter

    Suggests to me like you’ve brought forward a generation of students raised on extrinsic motivation. If anything, it will make teachers not use extrinsic rewards to motivate students.
    SomethingWicked likes this.
  13. ajrowing

    ajrowing Star commenter

    Universities are businesses in a market. They need as many students as possible to pay off the debts of the lavish buildings they have built over the last 10 years and the inflated salaries of the managers. There is a decreasing number of 18 year olds in the UK (for a few more years yet) and there is an increasing number of universities places (since the cap on the number of places was removed a few years ago). So some universities will do anything they can to recruit students and their tuition fees. We haven't seen peak unconditional offers yet.
    Catgirl1964 and install like this.
  14. install

    install Star commenter

    Agree...even at the cost of real grades ...
  15. gigaswitch1

    gigaswitch1 Occasional commenter

    install likes this.
  16. MrMedia

    MrMedia Star commenter

    Universities don’t need the students to pay off their debts. They need predictable numbers of students. The government has removed this predictable number (everything was capped) and so now someone is going to lose out.
    It’s a bit like when they build a free school in an area that doesn’t need it. Somewhere, in that area, teachers are going to be made redundant.
  17. Shedman

    Shedman Star commenter

    No, I did nothing but try to teach my students the best I could. Extrinsic rewards may have been a motivating factor to them but my motivation was to try to get them into a position where they had the academic and personal skills to be able to make genuine choices with regard to their future lives.
  18. Catgirl1964

    Catgirl1964 Senior commenter

    I recently heard of a student being given an unconditional offer but on the proviso that uni was first choice. As this student had better unis they would prefer to go to, this unconditional offer was never going to be taken up. Guaranteed bums on seats comes to mind but, on this occasion, for a student of a high caliber.
  19. Catgirl1964

    Catgirl1964 Senior commenter

    I find it irritating that unconditional offers now abound as my DD had to work very hard for her place on a law degree. It put her under a great deal of pressure that some students now do not experience. However, this was in the days before fees increased to £9k from £3k. Perhaps herein lies the problem.
    agathamorse likes this.

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