The rise and fall of the unconditional university offer

An unconditional offer from university is so last decade according to new reports. Universities have been slammed for “pressure selling” to sixth formers and the education secretary has now ordered the practice, which peaked in 2019, to stop 


One in four universities made unconditional offers in 2019 according to figures released this week but the practise is set to be consigned to the last decade. The number of universities locking in sixth form students by guaranteeing them places now matter how they performed in their A levels went from 29 in 2019 to 33 in 2019 with Falmouth University topping the table of The Unconditionals with 68.4% of all its offers being made with no specific exam results required.  

But the boom is set to bust in 2020 as Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, has announced he is writing to all universities and ask them to end the practice. The order will come amidst concerns that teenagers are doing worse in their A levels and, according to Williamson, “under no circumstances are conditional unconditional offers justified.”

“Students who accept unconditional offers are more likely to miss their predicted A levels,” he continued.


What is a conditional unconditional offer?

These are the most controversial type of offer as they force students to make the university their firm first choice before they can be considered for entry. The Office for Students has likened the practice to “pressure selling”.


According the The Times, Ucas has said that the so-called first choice promises are likely to decline in 2020 by as much as 75% but other recruitment ploys are likely to replace it in the higher education fight for the declining school-leaver population. “The tide is turning,” said Ucas CEO Clare Marchant.

Nottingham Trent University, which ranks at number ten of the table of percentage of unconditional offers made in 2019 – 43.7% of all its offers last year were unconditional – has fought back saying that the “free pass” has no impact on exam results, and explains the conditional unconditional is a natural antidote to a large number of applications listing the university as their insurance choice. The uni has also produced data in its defence showing that students with unconditional offers did better in their final exams, with 9.7% achieving firsts in 2018 compared to 6.6% who entered with a conditional offer.