Unconditionals made up 13% of all university place offers in 2018

by Hayley Pearce | 31 Jan 2019

UCAS data provides insight into universities’ offer-making habits

Five of the UK’s largest higher education providers made conditional unconditional offers to at least 40% of their successful applicants in 2018, according to UCAS data published today.

Overall, 13% of offers made to 18-year-old students across England last year were unconditional, up from 0.3% in 2013, with 7.4% being conditional unconditional offers – which become unconditional only if applicant make them their firm choice.

More than 60% of the biggest universities and colleges made unconditional offers, with more than a fifth of them making conditional unconditional offers.

The latest instalment of the university admissions charity’s End of Cycle Report provides data on unconditional offers, including conditional unconditional offers, made to 18-year-olds in the UK.

It shows that the number of unconditional offers made to UK applicants has risen for the fifth year in a row.

This, it says, is both due to the growing number of providers that use unconditional offers, and the increasing extent to which they do so.

The report comes after TSR research revealed last week that nearly half of students want unconditional offers to be regulated.

Rise in unconditional offers overall

In 2013, the percentages of offers that were unconditional (excluding conditional unconditional offers) for 18-year-old applicants from England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were very small.

They amounted to 0.3% for providers in England, 1.1% for providers in Wales, 0.4% for providers in Scotland and 0.1% for providers in Northern Ireland.

For providers in England, the proportion has increased every year, but for Welsh providers, the proportion increased each year up to 2017, then decreased in 2018.

By 2018, 13% of offers made by all providers in England were unconditional, while for providers in Wales, the figure was 8.4%.

The figures for Scotland and Northern Ireland, countries where home students pay reduced or no tuition fees, were 1.9% and less than 0.1% of offers respectively.

Unconditional offer-making for the largest 140 providers

In 2013, there were just 16 providers from the largest 140 where the number of unconditional offers made to 18-year-olds from England, Northern Ireland, and Wales accounted for 1% or more of all the offers they made.

There were no providers where unconditional offers accounted for 20% or more of all offers.

By 2018, of the largest 140 HE providers, there were 87 – more than 60% -- where the number of unconditional offers made up at least 1% of all offers made.

There were 10 providers where at least half of all offers made were unconditional.

For the majority of providers – 90 of the 140 – fewer than 10% of offers were unconditional.

Conditional unconditional offers

More than 50% of the unconditional offers made by all providers in England and Wales were conditional unconditional.

Providers in England were more likely to make conditional unconditional offers than providers in the other countries of the UK, with 7.4% of offers made by providers in England to 18-year-olds from England, Northern Ireland, and Wales were conditional unconditional.

This is compared to 4.7% of offers by providers in Wales.

Looking just at the largest 140 providers, there were 29 providers – more than 20% – where they made up at least 1% of all offers made.

For 24 providers, conditional unconditional offers accounted for at least 10% of all offers, for 16 providers, they accounted for at least 20% of all offers, and for 11 providers, they accounted for at least 30% of all offers.

In the case of five providers, conditional unconditional offers accounted for at least 40% of all offers made, and there were two providers where conditional unconditional offers accounted for at least half of all offers made in 2018.

The Office for Students has recently warned that universities that 'pressure-sell' to students using conditional unconditional offers could be breaking consumer law.

Unconditional offers by region

The East Midlands and East of England regions led the way with the highest proportion of their offers being unconditional, with 11.9% and 11.5% respectively.

Conversely, the North East has the lowest proportion of unconditional offers was the North East, with 3.5%.

None of the offers made in the North East were conditional unconditional offers.

The West Midlands and the South East made the highest proportion of conditional unconditional offers, with more than 80% and 72% respectively.

Lower, medium and higher tariff providers

UCAS sorts universities and colleges into groups depending on the number of tariff points of their successful applicants in the cycles from 2004 to 2011 cycles.

In 2013, a small proportion of offers made by each tariff group were recorded as unconditional – 0.4% of offers made by lower tariff providers, 0.2% of offers by medium tariff providers, and 0.3% of offers by higher tariff providers.

By 2018, unconditional offers made up 18.6% of offers by lower tariff providers and 18.1% of offers by medium tariff providers. These proportions were between four and five times higher than that for the higher tariff providers, where 3.5% of offers were unconditional.

Medium tariff providers that were most likely to make conditional unconditional offers in 2018, with 12.4% of all offers identified as conditional unconditional.

For lower tariff providers, 6.9% of offers were conditional unconditional, while for higher tariff providers, the figure was 3.3%.

This equates to more than two thirds (69%) of unconditional offers made by medium tariff providers being conditional unconditional offers, and more than a third (37%) of unconditional offers made by lower tariff providers being conditional unconditional.

And while higher tariff providers were the least likely to make unconditional offers, almost all unconditional offers they did make (94%) were conditional unconditional.

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