University Challenge 101

Mrs MWS works at the local Uni in student recruitment. We spoke about unconditional offers when they started making them. The deciding factors were: 1) Numbers are down 2) Main competitors were doing it.

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I’m becoming a little cynical about the higher education ‘industry’ and the associated student accommodation industry which is rapidly re-shaping every university town & city and is feeling like a bubble that will burst in some messy & expensive way…

I’m still all for higher education but the vfm (from the students’ perspective) needs to be monitored closely.


If you have an unconditional offer from your preferred Uni then happy days. Coming from another can be a curve ball and a tricky decision.

I think that unconditional offers should be banned. The downside is too great: what if you’ve selected the wrong course, and want to change university, but you didn’t try in your A-levels as you didn’t need to? What if you discover booze, drugs and shagging and get a third, what proof is there that you might actually be worth employing?

My view is that university applications should all be done after A-level results are in. There should also be a simple formula for acceptance of students, based on grades, with only small changes allowed for school, parental status and interview (i.e. higher grade requirement for private school, lower grade for single parent family, etc). The interview result should be released to the student.

The power would then be with the student - they could pick the course and university that worked for them, on the basis of knowledge of acceptance. The whole lottery thing would go.

Edit: pleased for your kid though Mark! :slight_smile:

My issue is with mis-selling. Effectively, the UO is a pressure tactic saying “put us first and we’ll make the offer unconditional”. There is no guarantee that the (i) degree will suit the student or (ii) that the student will be suitable for the degree. You are never sure about (i) but at least with a standard entry based on A-Level outcomes you are assured that the student has the minimum talent and ability to work under pressure to satisfy (ii). As you are looking at circa £15K worth of mistake if you get (i) and/or (ii) wrong it is a non-trivial matter.

Can work. But you have to accept a time penalty (students have to spend, overall, longer in education) or a reduction in how far they can get by the time they have to sit their A-level exams.

That would attach even more weight to A-level results and pile even more pressure onto the students over the few weeks of their exams. Heaven help them if they have hay fever or are on their period. When I was involved in student selection (admittedly a very long time ago) one of my colleagues took a very rough and ready look, over a very small sample ( a few tens of students) at the correlation between A-level grades and degree outcome. It was weaker than he was expecting. In fact O-level results were a better predictor of degree performance (perhaps people who had the ability to deal with a wider range of challenges were the ones who would do best at uni ?). Back then university was very different from school. We had to be very much more self-propelled at the former than at the latter. There was much less pastoral care and, of course, we were completely detached from home support. But nonetheless even now I would worry about being too mechanistic when it comes to deciding which 18 year olds are going to get the most out of three years of uni.


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Partly because the vast majority of people who got them had sat the Oxford entrance exams, where the questions were tougher then A-levels. This is how I got in. My college was the first, in ‘modern’ times, to offer entrance without the exam. But they insisted that if you wanted to apply that way you had to put the college top of your preference list (sneaky) and also come up for additional interviewing (you think exams are pressured !). And then they made hardly any offers this way - just a handful out of a yearly student intake of nearly 100.


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My eldest got an unconditional offer from the Uni she did her first degree at, this settled her and she did OK but no A’s at A levels, but she is suited to Uni and got a first, then a masters and PhD. Some kids just like the way Uni’s run.

My youngest is on his way to a 1st in Maths in his final year, yet his A levels are pretty average.

In my view A levels are not a marker for how you will do at Uni.


Absolutely. I agree it could work. My only point was that there would be more of it (time, that is). If you wanted to shift uni start dates by a fraction of a year though then you’d need to consider how that might impact the rest of the uni community. Unless the whole world did it (so it’ll be OK when the whole planet is governed in harmony by a supreme council of wise elders) we’d presumably have to shift our third term back into the summer. That would allow a decent break between the stress of setting and marking final exams and the arrival of the new kids after Xmas. But that would set us at odds with everyone else. Uni staff have kids too and now their long holiday wouldn’t match the school one. What about aligning the conference seasons ? The law of unintended consequences rears its ugly head …


Duh…that’s what going to Uni is for…:stuck_out_tongue:


You could keep the summer break - first two terms for learning, last for preparing for the exams, maybe!

Students forget half of everything you’ve ever taught them in the summer break. Then they’re supposed to come back and sit finals ?


What has that got to do with anything? I didn’t discover drugs or shagging at uni (I already knew about booze…) but I still got a third, however it’s never caused me a problem. Well except once, when TAG Mclaren hi-fi refused to interview me as I didn’t have a first, but they got their come-uppance! I have genuinely been offered every job I have ever interviewed for, and no one has ever suggested that a third class honours is something to be ashamed of.

I graduated in 1995 and the job I’m in now is the first one that has had me rummaging back through my course notes to assist me. Generally speaking, I found just having a degree helped get me into interviews and the rest I did myself.

Equally, Mrs. B got a third - her current job title starts with “Vice President of…” so, again, she seems to have muddled through. Admittedly, her mother did inform her that she would “never be more than a waitress” on hearing her result, so I think she’s been determined to prove her wrong, which probably helped!


Unconditional offers: seemingly unacceptable now but nobody batted an eyelid when Oxford did EE offers back in the day.

In any case, this isn’t the normal situation as she has clearly earned her place, so much congrats.

Regarding time, there is nothing to say that the term times couldn’t change - so university could start in January, say. A levels complete, summer travel, autumn work for some spending money. Would work well IMO.

I agree with your point on pressure on A levels, but it’s there anyway. I would have no problem on GCSEs also contributing to a student’s score, or a school report that included how much they contributed. My main point is that it should be a broad, open scoring-based system rather than an opaque offers-based one.

Don’t understand the question


Pass it over to to Peterhouse for a bonus.

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He’s quite modest about the fact and doesn’t make a big thing over it, but I’m lead to understand Rabski went to university. Maybe he could offer some input :upside_down_face:


If you haven’t discovered these before University then you’re unlikely to be distracted by them while there. Those that have will likely do well.

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Unconditional offers are about nothing other than bums on seats. It is quite likely that OFS will ban them. HEIs have already had a shot across the bows from OFS.

There is a growing body of evidence from 6th forms and schools that unconditional offers are causing A’Level students to throttle back on their A’Level studies, and getting grades far worse than they would otherwise achieved.

Lower grades at A’Level will have an impact on the school league table position.

Students are then turning up at their chosen Uni poorly prepared because of poor A’Level results and performing badly. Sometimes so badly they get kicked out. Then they have wasted a year, used up a year of their student loan, and can’t often find another Uni to accept them because their A’Level grades are so bad. I have some national data in a spreadsheet that shows that dropout rates are increasing amongst recipients of unconditional offers.

Sorry there is nothing good from the pre-exam (A’Level) unconditional offer.

Someone hinted Uni started in Jan - many of us already do, I welcomed a 120 new students a few weeks ago. Mainly post grad MSc’s but also a good few degree apprentices. We also welcomed nearly 200 students on to our online programmes in Jan. In fact the online programmes will have a third starting point in May.

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