David Kernohan is an Associate Editor of Wonkhe

Michelle Donelan “ordered” providers to stop using unconditional offers back on 23 March last year.

Following a sector consultation, the OfS put this into regulation in July. But if you think this means there are less unconditional offers in the system this year you are very much mistaken.

Data released alongside the Ucas End of Cycle report for 2020 shows that many providers appear to have made widespread use of offers with an unconditional component. Such offers will most likely have been made between the main January deadline and Donelan’s March statement – with many instances of unconditional offer making reported by students as the impact of the pandemic became more apparent.

According to UCAS, Nottingham Trent University made 11,090 offers with an unconditional component in 2020 – the majority being conditional unconditional offers. Liverpool John Moores University made 8,485 (mostly “other unconditional offers”). Ninety percent of offers made at Falmouth were direct unconditional offers, 82 per cent at Winchester were conditional unconditional offers.

Overall, the proportion of conditional unconditional offers has dropped since last year – a little over 82,000 offers were conditional unconditional last year, compared to 34,000 this year. But the use of direct unconditional and other unconditional offers has grown, meaning that the total number of unconditional offers continues to rise in 2020.

The data

I’ve two tabs for you, the first allows you to compare across the sector, for 2020 (you can examine other years using the filter) and the second gives you a view of historic (since 2013) data by provider.

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The practice is more pronounced in England than in any other part of the UK, but the trend is less all-encompassing than we have seen in previous years. Some providers are clearly moving away from the use of unconditional offers – others have either doubled down on existing policies or used unconditionality as a means to respond to the pressures of the early part of the pandemic.

What we can’t see is unconditional offer use by date within the cycle – but I am willing to bet that this data exists and regulators will be very keen to see it. Universities UK told us:

Prospective students faced unprecedented circumstances during the last admissions cycle and university admissions teams rose to the challenge to ensure students were supported to progress and achieve their full potential. In the long-term, UUK’s recent admissions review has recommended that unconditional offers are used only in specific circumstances, for example when students already hold the required grades for a course, where decisions are also based on auditions or another form of assessment, or if students require special consideration due to illness or a disability.

Intake diversity

Other sector agencies have avoided the unconditionals issue – but some (like OfS) have welcomed the sector’s performance in the participation of students from underrepresented groups (in terms of area background and ethnicity). The dataset we used to know as the “Equality and Diversity” release now includes a range of data available by provider for those interested in delving behind some of the headlines

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There’s four tabs here, allowing you to examine splits by POLAR, SIMD (for Scottish providers), ethnicity, and gender. The providers are sorted alphabetically – use the “highlight name” function to find a specific university or college. We default to the latest data but you can go right back to 2010 – and see data for 18 year olds or all ages.

The most important filter is your choice of statistic – which lets you compare a range of data on volumes, offer rates, and acceptance rates.

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