What should we make of the recent UCAS release that a third of 18 year olds now receive unconditional offers for university places?
School and college representatives are right to argue that this is a reflection of an ‘out of control’ market based higher education system where universities have to chase students or face financial ruin, something made worse by the removal of ‘capping’. But some of their comments about the effects on students are less straightforward.
While UCAS also provides evidence that those enjoying the luxury of an unconditional offer are likely to miss their target grades, in complaining about students ‘easing down’ ‘ taking their foot off the gas’ or even ‘stop coming to school at all’ (!) headteachers and college principals are as much concerned about the effect on league table scores and their own reputations, as they are youngsters future commitment to study being undermined. UCAS itself, takes a more somber view.
Unconditional offers are also made to support widening participation, and to address the health and well being needs of some students. Many students responding to UCAS’ survey reported a reduction in stress knowing they had a confirmed place….
unconditional offers are made by universities and colleges that are satisfied applicants have demonstrated sufficient ability and potential to succeed on their chosen course. This may include consideration of exam results, and outcomes from interviews or auditions. For example, 18 per cent of offers made to applicants for creative arts courses are unconditional, where more emphasis could be placed on a strong portfolio (Press release 28/11/18.
If we also consider the many critiques of schools becoming ‘exam factories’ , teachers having to ‘teach to test’ and spending more time on exam technique than on the intellectual development of their charges, then it doesn’t take much to recognise that the current ‘dog eat dog’ system can’t be justified. Mass participation in HE is a good thing. To make university entrance a right rather than dependent on academic excellence, a new system of admission is required. .