Half of applicants say universities should make offers after exam grades known

More than half of university applicants believe institutions should only make degree offers after students have received their exam results, according to research.

The new study also indicates that more than 50% of applicants say their university offers made them more complacent about getting good grades.

And students who were given “contextual” offers – in which factors such as an applicant’s background and schooling are taken into account – were more likely to say they were more relaxed about studying.

The findings, published by vice-chancellors’ group Universities UK (UUK), are part of a major review being conducted by the organisation.

The poll questioned nearly 1,500 British adults who applied to study at UK universities and colleges between 2015 and 2019.

It found that 56% of those surveyed said they think the university application process should begin after students have received their academic results.

Students aged 21 and over were most likely to agree with this idea, while those aged under 18 were the least likely.

Nearly two thirds (64%) thought it was “fine” to apply with predicted grades – how the current system works – but nearly one in three (29%) thought that not having exam results before applying to university was a challenge.

Just over half (55%) of those who had taken up a place said that their offers had made them complacent in studying for exams.

A breakdown shows that nearly three in four (74%) of those who had received a “contextual” offer said this was the case, compared to 55% of those who had received a conditional offer – an offer dependent on getting certain exam grades, and 50% of those handed an unconditional offer.

The survey did also find that 82% of those polled agreed that their degree offer motivated them to work harder, and 71% said their offer made them less stressed about the admissions process.

Overall, seven in 10 said they think the current admissions service is fair.

Among those who think it is unfair, the most common factors were because they felt they did not receive helpful career advice, and they found the application process too long.

Professor Julia Buckingham, UUK president and vice-chancellor and president of Brunel University London, said the findings will inform the recommendations of the fair admissions review, which is looking at how the system can be fairer and in the best interests of all students.

“The group is considering the impact of different types of offers on students and whether it would be beneficial for applicants if universities offered places after they have their grades,” she said.

“On the whole, university admissions are seen as fair, but all students must have faith in the system and receive careers advice to help them make the best decisions about what and where to study.

“It is the job of universities, colleges, employers, schools and the Government to work together to fill the gaps in good quality careers advice for applicants, and particularly to disadvantaged groups.”

UCU general secretary Jo Grady said: “There is growing support for a shift to a post-qualification admissions system, where students apply to university after they have received their results.

“Our research shows such a move would not only be fairer for students, it would bring the UK into line with the rest of the world and eliminate the use of controversial unconditional offers.”

Clare Marchant, Ucas chief executive, said: “Its welcome news that most students agree the current application process is fair, and that the clear majority of applicants felt supported when applying, particularly by Ucas.

“Wider careers advice is an area that students feel they need more support with though, and we are playing an increasingly vital role as they make big decisions about their futures.”

She added: “This year, we’re expecting some universities’ offer-making strategies to change, though we need to ensure that the admissions process remains fair and transparent for years to come.

“We are already exploring innovative reforms to the admissions process, including how changing when students receive offers could bring benefits.”

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