Fierce competition between universities to attract students has seen sixth form pupils increasingly offered places regardless of their exam results.
Since 2013, the number of unconditional places handed out to school leavers has surged from 2,985 to 67,915, up by more than 2,100 per cent.
In the past year alone, there has been a 32 per cent rise, according to new figures released by Ucas, the university admissions service.
Sam Gyimah, the universities minister, accused universities of acting in a “completely irresponsible” manner by handing out so many unconditional offers, as he urged to cut down on the practise.
“Places at universities should only be offered to those who will benefit from them, and giving out unconditional offers just to put ‘bums on seats’ undermines the credibility of the university system,” he said.
“Along with the Office for Students, I am closely monitoring the number being issued and fully expect the regulator to take appropriate action.
“Unconditional offers risk distracting students from the final year of their schooling, and swaying their decisions does them a disservice – universities must act in the interest of students, not in filling spaces.”
The lifting of student number controls in England in 2015 gave universities free rein to recruit as many undergraduates as they see fit.
But the move has led to accusations that they now act like businesses, seeking to maximise their revenue by recruiting as many students as possible.
A fresh analysis by Ucas found that five years ago, 2,570 applicants received at least one unconditional offer (1.1. per cent of all 18-year-olds).
In 2018, the number increased to 58,385, meaning more than a fifth (22.9 per cent) of school leavers received at least one unconditional offer.
“Unconditional offers have always been a feature of university and college admissions, and used in a variety of circumstances,” the Ucas report noted.
“For example to admit mature students who have already achieved sufficient qualifications to meet entry criteria [or] to make offers to applicants following interviews, auditions, or portfolio reviews.”
However, the report’s authors explained that more recently, unconditional offers have been used as way to “attract and retain interest from applicants in an increasingly competitive marketplace”.
Lecturers and academics have criticsed the rise in unconditional offers, saying they “have made a mockery of exams” and encouraged talented students to “take their foot off the gas, instead of striving for excellence”.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of University and College Union (UCU), said: “The proliferation of unconditional offers is detrimental to the interests of students and it is time the UK joined the rest of the world in basing university offers on actual achievements instead on guesswork.”
An earlier report by Ucas, warned that unconditional offers were partly to blame for a fall in the number of the brightest students achieving their predicted grades at A-levels between 2010 and 2015.
“Applicants holding unconditional firm choices were more likely to miss their predicted attainment by two or more grades, compared to applicants holding conditional firm choices,” the report said.
Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK acknowledged that there has been a rise in the number of unconditional offers in recent year, but said that they still account for just 7.1 per cent of offers.
He said that unconditional offers are made in “a number of circumstances”, adding: “When used appropriately, [they] can help students and ensure that universities are able to respond flexibly to the range of applicants seeking places.”
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Source: Nationfun.net Exampass