Universities are making inflated grade offers to “sucker” applicants into putting them down as their first choice, even though they do not require such high A-level marks, an admissions tutor has claimed.
Michael Merrifield, admissions tutor for physics and astronomy at the University of Nottingham, said he was fed up with the “dishonest game” played by admissions offices, which were making offers to students that bore no relation to the marks they actually needed.
If students received a high conditional offer, they were more likely to put that university down as their “firm choice” ahead of their “insurance choice” - a key decision because students are obliged to take up the firm choice if they get the results, Professor Merrifield explained.
But whatever happens on results day, the university can still benefit, he said.
“There is a game you can play as an admissions tutor…you can make high offers and, even if students get low grades, they can go anyway,” said Professor Merrifield in a video, made by Brady Haran, an independent film-maker, that has been posted on YouTube (see video below).
“So you sucker them in by making yourself look prestigious, so [students] feel obliged to go [to that university] because it is the highest offer.
“It is a very dishonest game as those offers have very little to do with the standard of qualification you need to go to that university.”
Professor Merrifield said he had refused to do this and generally expected his physics students to gain the three As at A level demanded by Nottingham’s offer.
“If you get 2 As and a B, we might [take] you, but those who are getting Cs and Ds, we do not take them,” he said.
He believed the inflation practice was widespread among physics departments and “could be true for other subjects”, with many departments using the A* to flatter applicants into putting their university down as first choice.
Professor Merrifield advised students not to select their first-choice university on the “whim of the admissions tutor” and to instead pick the place they most wanted to attend as their firm choice.
He said they should do this even if it meant having higher tariff offers as insurance choices - a plan not advised by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, which urges students to have lower back-up offers in case their grades are worse than expected.