After an eighteen-month review process, Universities UK (UUK) has set out a new ‘code of fair admissions’ that aims to ‘protect applicants’ interests‘, ‘support transparency’, and ‘maintain high academic standards.’. Following recommendations from the review – which involved speaking to university and UCAS leaders – Universities UK has advised universities against making ‘conditional unconditional’ offers of a place to prospective students.
A ‘conditional unconditional’ offer means that a student would have a place at the university irrespective of their A-Level results – but only on the condition that said student makes the university their first choice. According to the Guardian, the use of this type of offer has drastically risen in recent years, but was banned by the Office for Students at the height of the pandemic.
The new code hopes to prevent students from feeling pushed into making decisions and quickly accepting offers that are not ‘in their best interests’ and stresses how the application and offer-making process needs to support ‘student choice.’ As well as pressuring students into choosing a particular university, the practice has also met criticism from many suggesting that accepting a conditional unconditional offer can demotivate students causing them to perform poorly in exams, as they know that their university place has been confirmed.
The code goes on to add that unconditional offers should be limited as a whole, and only used in specific circumstances, such as when a student has had to interview or audition for their place in addition to their UCAS application. It also specifies that incentives such as these should not place prospective students under ‘undue pressure on the decisions that applicants make, or the timescales in which they should make them.’
“Prioritise applicants’ interests above all else”
Members of UUK will be expected to sign up to the code. But this is not compulsory. Vice-chancellors and principals of member universities are responsible for ensuring that their institutions meet the standards of UUK, the members of which span the UK, from large Russell Group institutions such as the University of Birmingham and the University of Cambridge, to smaller, specialised higher education centres like Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Speaking to the Guardian, UUK’s vice-president for England and Northern Ireland and vice-chancellor of the University of Hertfordshire, Professor Quintin McKellar, said: ‘The Fair Admissions Code of Practice allows universities and colleges to make a public commitment to prioritise applicants’ interests above all else.’
Michelle Donelan, the minister for higher and further education also told the Guardian: ‘These changes really help to put university applicants’ needs first. Prospective students should expect clarity from the provider and the course about quality, transparency and fair access.
‘I have long called for these much-needed changes to the admissions process such as increased transparency in advertising and also called out the use of conditional unconditional offers which only really benefit the university or college.
‘This code highlights the undue pressure this places on applicants to make a decision which may not be in their best interests.’