23% of university applicants received an unconditional offer last year, according to admissions service UCAS.
Figures show that an increasing number of UK institutions are dropping A-level requirements completely, in exchange for students to list them as their first choice.
These types of offers have been described by UCAS as “conditional unconditional offers”.
There are widespread concerns that such offers can lead to students enrolling on degree programmes that are perhaps unsuitable for them, and can further harm A-level grades by removing the need to achieve certain grades.
Unconditional offers have traditionally been handed to students that have demonstrated sufficient ability to succeed on their course ahead of taking their A-levels, perhaps through previous examinations, or as often the case for art students, a strong portfolio of personal work.
In some cases, they have also been given to students with well-being concerns, in order to reduce stress, and ensure that any anxiety over entry requirements does not harm students’ performance in examinations.
However, these legitimate reasons are often overridden by students who lose the incentive to work towards exams, suggested Geoff Barton, the General Secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders: “The problem with unconditional offers is that some students take their foot off the gas and underachieve in A-levels or other qualifications and this hampers their employment prospects later in life.”
This correlation between unconditional offers and grade attainment has further stirred the discussion surrounding Higher Education’s market-like structure, with a controversy surrounding the use of such offers as bargaining chips to attract potential students.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds described the use of them as “systematic”, and “not in the interest of students”.
“I expect universities to use them responsibly and where institutions cannot justify the rising numbers being offered, I have made clear to the Office for Students that they should use the full range of powers at their disposal to take action,’’ he added.
The Government is leading an ongoing review into post-18 education, with recommendations already made to re-introduce means-tested grants, tackle grade inflation, and reduce tuition fees to £6,500 for certain subjects.