Damian Hinds: some v-cs trying to ‘justify damaging practices’

Education secretary hits back at university leaders who called his intervention on ‘conditional unconditional’ offers unlawful

May 22, 2019
Sleeves rolled up

Education secretary Damian Hinds has defended his right to “speak out” on unconditional offers, accusing university leaders who attacked his intervention as unlawful of “trying to justify practices which are damaging the integrity” of higher education.

In April, Mr Hinds wrote to 23 universities calling on them to stop issuing “conditional unconditional” offers, which become unconditional only when an applicant selects the university as their firm choice and which have been criticised by the Office for Students as akin to “pressure selling”.

The growth of unconditional offers – seen by many as linked to the government’s decision to abolish student number controls and create an unrestricted market in recruitment – has raised concerns about the impact on students’ final A-level grades.

David Green, the University of Worcester vice-chancellor, had previously criticised Mr Hinds’ intervention as “anti-democratic, untrue and [running] directly against his own government’s legislation”. Universities have long been granted autonomy on admissions under legislation, most recently in the Higher Education and Research Act 2017.

Professor Green said his university had taken legal advice that stated “that the secretary of state’s actions are highly likely to prove unlawful should they be tested by judicial review”.

The Department for Education issued a statement on 22 May in which it said that 19 of the 23 universities challenged had written back to Mr Hinds “with the majority making positive comments”, adding that “at least 15 universities” had “ended or pledged to review their use of ‘conditional unconditional’ offers”.

Mr Hinds said: “Prospective students should have a choice of where they study, but ‘conditional unconditional’ offers entice them to restrict their choices, in favour of one university. I maintain this is bad practice: bad in the end for both students and universities, and urge universities using them to stop.

“While I am pleased that many university leaders are taking the issue seriously, it is a shame there are still some trying to justify practices which are damaging the integrity of our higher education and students’ interests.

“I make no apology for speaking out as I have done. I could not stand idly by watching questionable practices spread and educational standards slide.”

He added: “It is my job to make sure the education system works to help everyone make the most of their potential, and I am not afraid to get my hands dirty for this.”

john.morgan@timeshighereducation.com

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Reader's comments (2)

Such irony.
Hinds is welcome to his opinion, and to air it wherever he wishes - that's free speech. It's also free speech to disagree with it completely, rubbish it ten ways from Sunday, and leave the pieces on the floor. Vice-Chancellors decide the policy for their universities, and if they wish to take Hinds' opinion into consideration when making their decisions, of course they can. They are equally free to ignore it.

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