Boston and Skegness MP Matt Warman has led a debate in Parliament to look at the impact of unconditional university offers on schools, students and universities themselves.
The Westminster Hall debate, in Parliament’s second debating chamber on Wednesday 28th March, highlighted the increasing prevalence of unconditional university offers, following concerns about them being raised with Matt by local schools.
Figures from admissions body UCAS show that unconditional offers have increased significantly in recent years, with 3,000 being made in 2013, compared to 50,000 in 2017. In Boston and Skegness alone, nearly 30 per cent of all applicants last year received at least one unconditional offer.
An unconditional offer, if accepted, will of course relieve some of the short term exam-related stress for the student but, it does not come without drawbacks. Headmaster of Boston Grammar School (BGS), John McHenry, informed Matt that receiving an unconditional offer can serve as a disincentive for many students to work to the best of their ability for exams, safe in the knowledge that their university place is already secured.
At BGS alone, one third of students have received an unconditional offer this academic year. This has a potentially damaging effect on a school’s overall academic performance and subsequently, their position in the national ranking.
As Matt said in the debate,
“The risk is that a student might end up with a degree from one university when they might have got into another university that is ranked more highly, and that they might end up with worse results in their school exams because they did not need good grades to get to university. It is a vicious circle if things go wrong…”
Responding to Matt, Universities Minister Sam Gyimah MP confirmed that the Government has instructed the new Office for Students to monitor and review the number of unconditional offers being made, which will allow initial conclusions to be drawn on their impact. The Minister said,
“It is right that higher education institutions should be able to make unconditional offers when it is appropriate, but I agree with Members that that should be done with extreme care. I therefore welcome this opportunity to highlight the sharp rise in the number of unconditional offers made in recent years and why it is right for the House to be concerned.”
After the debate, Matt commented,
“I was pleased to have the opportunity to raise this important issue in a dedicated debate, after hearing of concerns about the impact these offers are having on our local schools. As I explained yesterday, there is a role for unconditional offers within the university admission system, but given their significant rise in recent years, we must ensure that they are not having unintended consequences, or harming schools or students in the long run. I welcome that the Government is already considering this matter, and I look forward to following the work of the new Office for Students closely.”