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The number of students receiving unconditional offers to study at Lancaster University is at its highest since 2014. The SCAN News Team have discovered that in the 2018/2019 entry year, 3585 offers were made to prospective students with an unconditional component, and 1427 of these were accepted. This equates to 26.5% of all offers being unconditional. In comparison, in 2014-2015, a mere 845 offers were unconditional, which skyrocketed to 2040 the following year.
The SCAN News Team have also conducted a poll on the Twitter page and in doing so have found that 57% of participants who received an unconditional offer suggested that they would not have made Lancaster their firm choice if it had been a conditional offer.
The University’s Unconditional Offer Scheme has been a co-ordinated scheme across the departments since 2014 and was introduced to draw in ‘exceptional’ students who would ‘continue to excel’ when choosing to study at Lancaster. As well as offering a guaranteed place of study, the scheme also secures accommodation for prospective students and access to scholarship funding through the University’s Excellence Scheme.
In 2018, UCAS stated that around 68,000 unconditional offers were made to 18-year-old applicants from England, Northern Ireland and Wales, in comparison with 3,000 in 2013. When considering applicants of all ages, around one in seven offers to applicants were unconditional. 83.8% of all offers made by the University of Suffolk last year were unconditional, the highest of any higher-education institution in the country. The university regulator The Office for Students (OfS) have said that universities giving an abundance of unconditional offers will negatively affect students from disadvantaged backgrounds as they would be more likely to end up in less competitive universities, which would damage social mobility.
SCAN approached a number of students when researching the increase in unconditional offers given by the University, those who received one and those who did not. Falling into the latter category, one student said that they were ‘glad’ that they did not receive an unconditional offer and that it gave them a ‘push in the right direction’ to achieve the grades they needed. ‘I received a conditional offer from Lancaster which required me to achieve ABB for the course I applied for. I definitely worked harder for my grades than I would have done otherwise knowing that a place wasn’t certain, and my friends from home who have ended up in other Universities feel the same way.’
UCAS, in their 2018 end-of-cycle report, addressed this notion and stated that ‘Applicants who hold an unconditional offer as their firm choice are more likely to miss their predicted A-Level grades by 2 or more points, compared to those who are holding a conditional offer as their firm choice.’ The Association of School and College Leaders argued that it is ‘not in the best interests of students’ to hand them unconditional offers and that they have the potential to disadvantage those who are first in their families to go to University.
However, students typically were in favour of unconditional offers. One student who received an unconditional said, ‘Receiving my offer convinced me to put Lancaster as my first option as it took the pressure away when it came to A-Level exams. It provided a sense of security and I’m glad that I accepted my unconditional offer.’
Complainants surrounding these offers tend to particularly dislike those which fall under the ‘conditional-if-firm’ category, also known as ‘conditional unconditional’ offers. These are conditional offers given to students which will be converted to unconditional provided that the offer-holder in question makes the institution their first choice. These are the offers which Lancaster University tend to give to prospective students which are widely disliked by those in Government. In the previously mentioned UCAS report, they stated, ‘In 2013, no conditional unconditional offers were identified, but each year since the number has increased. In 2018, a total of 63,560 conditional unconditional offers were identified, accounting for 6.6 per cent of all offers made to the 18-year-old group that year.’ They also identified that unconditional offers are most likely to be made for creative arts and design courses. 18% of all offers for these courses were recorded as being unconditional, in comparison with a mere 0.2% for medicine and dentistry.
Former Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Sam Gyimah stated last year, ‘The rise in unconditional offers is completely irresponsible to students, and universities must start taking a lead, by limiting the number they offer… 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.’
On the other hand, chief executive of Universities UK Allistair Jarvis said, ‘Unconditional offers, when used appropriately, can help students and ensure that universities are able to respond flexibly to the range of applicants seeking places. He also noted that it is not in the interests of universities to take students ‘without the potential to succeed.’
When approached for a statement, a representative from the University said, ‘Lancaster University makes a number of unconditional offers each year to applicants who have the strongest academic profiles. As the strength of our applicant group has grown, the number of applicants eligible for the scheme has risen. Our unconditional offers are linked to an excellence scholarship to encourage applicants to continue to strive for the best possible grades in their exams, further details are available via http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/study/undergraduate/lancaster-university-unconditional-offer-scheme/.
The Lancaster University unconditional offer scheme has been in place for 4 years and applicants have performed extremely well both at entry level and during their academic studies.’