The University of Birmingham is to increase the number of unconditional offers it makes to potential undergraduates after attracting more than 300 high-achieving students in a pilot scheme.
Just over a third of 1,000 applicants who received no-strings-attached offers this year based on their predicted A-level attainment – normally straight As – took up places at Birmingham.
The pilot’s offer-to-acceptance rate was substantially higher than the conversion percentage on conventional offers, where students are required to achieve certain A-level grades.
This ratio generally ranges between the “low to high 20s” on average, said Roderick Smith, director of admissions at Birmingham.
“Going from about a quarter to just above a third…is a demonstrable difference,” he said.
With universities now able to recruit unlimited numbers of students achieving at least ABB at A level (or the equivalent qualifications), Birmingham’s scheme represented a bold effort to attract high-calibre applicants.
The scheme was not without risks: the no-strings offers meant that Birmingham had to accept the students if they failed to achieve their predicted grades. Such undergraduates would have counted towards the university’s “core” non-ABB quota, thereby exposing it to fines for over-recruitment.
However, only a few who accepted unconditional places failed to score highly in their A levels, according to Mr Smith.
Checks on GCSE and AS-level performance and the high degree of accuracy of predicted A-level grades had minimised the risks, he added.
“There were one or two who crashed and burned, or took their foot off the accelerator,” Mr Smith said. “But we came to the conclusion it was a risk we could take.”
The scheme has helped to bolster Birmingham’s recruitment, with undergraduate numbers close to 2011-12 levels after a 7 per cent drop (385 students) last year.
Initially limited to a dozen degree courses – including mathematics, economics, philosophy and modern languages – the unconditional offers will be made in other disciplines next year, with the number of places also set to rise, although Mr Smith would not say by how much.
No private bias
The director also defended the scheme from critics who have suggested that it may disproportionately benefit private school applicants because they are more likely to receive straight A predictions than those from less affluent backgrounds.
“This did not skew the socio-economic background of our students,” said Mr Smith, adding that applicants from state schools were just as likely to receive unconditional offers as their private school peers.
“We were not unduly privileging the already privileged,” he said.
He also dismissed criticisms from other admissions officers, made privately, that Birmingham’s unconditional offers violated the spirit of Ucas, where offers are generally linked to final exam performance.
“We have not broken any Ucas rules. We are simply dedicated to doing something bold and innovative, which is the sort of place Birmingham is,” Mr Smith said.
In addition to helping Birmingham secure students with above-average Ucas tariff scores, the scheme has also allowed pupils with unconditional offers to be more expressive or experimental in their A-level choices, he added.