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Church universities criticised for making unconditional offers

08 February 2019

York St John

CHURCH universities are at the centre of the controversy over unconditional offers made to prospective students.

Of the top ten universities granting unconditional offers, five are church universities: York St John (78.8 per cent of offers); Roehampton (68.1 per cent); Bishop Grosseteste (56.5 per cent); Gloucestershire (56.3 per cent); and Plymouth Marjon (52.4 per cent).

Only Suffolk University scores higher than York St John: 83.8 per cent of its offers are unconditional.

Figures from the UCAS suggest that the granting of unconditional offers has increased from 2985 (0.4 per cent of all offers) in 2013 to 67,915 (7.1 per cent) in 2018. The practice is seen as a means of attracting students away from the more popular universities. A few have advocated it as a means of taking the uncertainty out of university applications.

In its guidance to higher-education providers, however, UCAS warns: “If you make unconditional offers to students with pending Level 3 qualifications, you should seek to ensure the offer made to the student doesn’t result in them ceasing their studies or failing to perform to the best of their ability, and proactively employ practices that mitigate against this.”

It goes on: “Implementing an unconditional-offer scheme that is not underpinned by clear evidence and transparent policies could be damaging, both reputationally and to recruitment.”

The latest UCAS research suggests that applicants holding an unconditional firm offer are between seven and 13 per cent more likely to miss their predicted attainment by two or more grades, when all other factors are taken into account.

It is for this reason that other church universities, Chichester and St Mary’s, Twickenham, have been leading the campaign to end the making of such offers to A-level students.

The Times last week quoted the Pro-Vice-Chancellor of St Mary’s, John Brewer, on the results of the university’s own research. “It is clear students with unconditional offers take their foot off the pedal and do not achieve their predicted grades.”

Next week: how church universities compare in the league tables.

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