An English university has said that its decision to stop making unconditional offers was driven by concerns that they were dragging down its entry standards.
St Mary’s University, Twickenham said that analysis of the “conversion rate” of offer holders into entrants showed that there was “little or no” difference in the likelihood of someone who had received an unconditional offer enrolling at the institution compared with someone who had been given a conditional offer.
Further evidence showed that “rather than enhancing the St Mary’s mean entry tariff, the unconditional offers results could be detrimental to it”, the university said. All of the UK’s main domestic league tables use average entry standards as a metric.
The move comes amid mounting concern about the role of unconditional offers in UK university admissions. Ucas data show that almost a quarter (22.9 per cent) of 18-year-olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland received at least one unconditional offer in the 2018 admissions cycle. In 2013, this figure was just 1.1 per cent.
Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, has called the increase “completely irresponsible”. Some admissions experts are concerned that unconditional offers discourage students from trying their hardest in the run-up to their A-level exams.
Last year, St Mary’s made 499 unconditional offers.
John Brewer, pro vice-chancellor (global engagement) at St Mary’s, said that pulling out of unconditional offer-making was the “right decision”.
“We are determined to maintain standards of entry to St Mary’s and, by listening to the views of schools, teachers, our own staff and students, we believe that with the evidence that has been available to us that we’ve made the right decision,” he said.
“It was clear to us that a number of students who enrolled with us after an unconditional offer was made didn’t meet the grades they expected and this didn’t merit the investment we made into that particular part of our recruitment programme.”
Professor Brewer has previously raised concerns that schools were becoming increasingly willing to over-predict the grades that their pupils were likely to achieve, in the expectation that they will receive unconditional offers.