At first you receive conditional offers from the universities you applied to, and then you are required to give a reply.
Is a conditional offer unilateral? Personally, I think it is a unilateral offer (i.e. the place will be given to you IF you meet the conditions of our offer and you won't be brought to action for breaching the contract if you miss your offer).
If indeed this is a unilateral offer, what about the acceptance? Theoretically, I can only accept a unilateral offer after I have completed performance (i.e. attained A*AA in A Levels, and meanwhile, revocation of offer is prohibited). So what exactly is the legal nature of my reply to the offers before getting the A level results? Surely that cannot be an acceptance on my part. If that is the case, there should be no legal relations formed between me and the universities at the stage of my reply.
Do you agree?
At best, it is a bilateral offer. It is made personally to YOU and therefore, it is a bilateral offer.
It is therefore up to YOU, whether to accept or reject. As for the performance part, it is subject to the terms and conditions of the offer which obviously means you having to meet their requirements. If not, you have not performed on a future contract.
Say I offer you $100 if you will run and finish a marathon. A unilateral contract is formed once you complete the marathon, at least that's what Janet O'Sullivan says.
So what makes the UCAS offer different from the above offer?
So basically, you agree to perform by getting the required A Levels and by you fulfilling that condition, your university is legally obliged to accept you or something along them lines. If you don't get the A Levels required, then the university does not have to perform.
But other than that, I guess all offers are unilateral offers.
Unfortunately for you, the LAW disagrees with you.
At best, it cannot be a unilateral offer because the conditional offer is not made to the world at large. It is made personally to YOU and therefore, it is a bilateral offer.
However, I suspect that university offers are bilateral, the only case I know of even vaguely on point is Moran v University College Salford (no 2) which seems to imply (but never state) that there is a bilateral contract. It was only an interlocutory hearing so most issues are not addressed.
I further suspect that if the offer is bilateral with a condition subsequent (ie get the grades), and the student deliberately prevents the condition from occurring, or the condition occurs but the student defers or goes elsewhere and thus breaches the contract, that the university would never sue. But we know from Moran v University College Salford that the reverse is not true - students can sue Universities over offers that are later withdrawn.
on this view, the nature of your reply after receiving offer (should you bother to send one) is not legal. if it were to have a legal nature, it would be the same as Errington (son) saying to Errington (father), I haven't paid the mortgage instalments on the house yet, but i accept that you have made this offer to me, can i have the house?
generally a unilateral contract need not be made to only one person or made to lots of people, it can be made however (in an advertisement to lots, like in Carlill, or to your son and his wife, like in Errington, or to one person in the case of a conditional uni offer). The university, having made you a CONDITIONAL offer has an obligation to allow in once you've completed performance i.e. achieved the grades.
with Moran, the thing was that it was an UNCONDITIONAL offer, so they (accidentally) sent him an unconditional offer (constituting an OFFER in contract terms). he sent them a letter of acceptance (ACCEPTANCE in contract terms), and consideration was his refusal of other opportunities on the basis of the offer. here there is a bilateral contract created, because the contract was never dependent on performance, Salford University never actually said 'if you do X, we will do Y' (the form a unilateral contract normally takes).
NB: in Salford the court decided the offer was never supposed to be made to him so it would be unjust for the university to have to allow him in, this is more an issue of what happens when an offer is erroneously targeted but accepted in good faith, only the person to whom you intended to make the offer can accept it (i think)