A “major review” of university admissions has been announced by Universities UK amid concern over so-called “conditional unconditional” offers, with suggestions the work could also pave the way to post-qualification applications.
UUK is establishing the “fair admissions review”, whose advisory group will be chaired by Paddy Nixon, vice-chancellor of Ulster University. Membership of the group will also include the vice-chancellors of Durham, Worcester, St Andrews, Nottingham Trent, Lincoln, Canterbury Christ Church and Aberystwyth universities, along with school and college leaders and the Ucas chief executive Clare Marchant.
They will come up with recommendations, due in spring 2020, for “best practice in offer making” and propose changes that will “ensure that university admissions work in the best interests of applicants”, UUK said. It will identify the main challenges linked to admissions including unconditional offers and contextual offers and look at whether the 2004 Schwartz principles of fair admissions remain valid.
The UUK announcement follows the Westminster government ordering a similar “comprehensive” review by the Office for Students of admissions practices in English universities.
UUK confirmed that the review by the OfS, ordered by the government, and its own review are “entirely separate”.
The two reviews of admission practice are also regarded as potentially opening the door for a shift to post-qualification applications, where students apply to university once they have got their grades. Such a system could see first-year undergraduates start their courses later and could make unconditional offers “defunct”.
Damian Hinds, the education secretary, wrote to 23 universities earlier this year calling on them to stop issuing conditional unconditional offers.
Such offers only become unconditional when an applicant selects the university as their firm choice.
There were 66,315 conditional unconditional offers made last year, equivalent to 6.9 per cent of all offers.
Alistair Jarvis, UUK’s chief executive, said of its review: “Universities will continue to make their own decisions on offers, but the review aims to build greater levels of transparency, trust and public understanding in admissions practices.”
A DfE spokeswoman said that Mr Hinds “has made his concerns clear around use of conditional unconditional offers and we are pleased that since then many of the institutions he wrote to have responded stating they have ended this practice or committed to reviewing it.
“We welcome the commitment made so far from the sector to address these concerns and the review of admissions practices announced by UUK to ensure they work in the best interests of students in a transparent way.”
Acting general secretary of the University and College Union, Paul Cottrell, said that a comprehensive overhaul of university admissions is "long overdue".
But he added: "The review panel has missed a trick by not including any staff directly involved in making offers, or any students who have recently been through the university admissions process. Any reform should be fully informed by the people who it will affect the most."
"There is growing support for a shift to a post-qualification admissions system, where students apply to university after they have received their results," said Mr Cottrell.
"Our research shows such a move would not only be fairer for students, it would bring the UK into line with the rest of the world and eliminate the use of controversial unconditional offers and the chaotic clearing process."
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