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Predicted grades could become a thing of the past

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Students at ​@TheStudentRoom respond to the @OfficeStudents proposals announced to scrap predicted grades, and the ongoing debate around ‘conditional’  unconditional offers 

As part of a review of the university admissions process being carried out by the ​Office for Students (OfS),​ predicted grades could become a thing of the past.    

We ran a poll here at ​The Student Room​, asking our community of students what they  thought.  With over 3,000 responses, ​56.23% voted that they would prefer a PQA system  whereby they would apply once they have their exam results.    

Students voting on the poll commented – “Any university making admissions decisions based on predicted grades is violating the  principles of fair admissions. They’re barely used (and where they are used its poor practice).  Scrap the requirement for predicted grades.”    

“About bloody time!  Many of us have been saying this for years. Far too many predictions  are overoptimistic works of fiction. This means that those students with honest teachers are  put at a significant disadvantage. Once places are awarded based on results students can  be admitted to university purely on merit.”    

“The predicted grade system is ridiculous. I know some people that have been given grades  that are most definitely higher than they really are capable of. A PQA system makes much  more sense and is a lot fairer. There would then be no need for unconditionals. I personally  know somebody who was offered one and they definitely took their foot of the gas for  revision!”    

The OfS has outlined three options for possible future reform​. The first two options are for  all students to apply to university after they’ve got their grades or for universities to wait to  make all their offers until exam results are in.  The third of these is to keep the system as it  but with a few changes, such as getting rid of personal statements and references and  increasing the amount of contextual offers universities give out.  Contextual offers are  designed to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds into higher education, by  offering them lower grades than usual.    

Lorna Greville, Education Account Director at The Student Room, believes that “​reviewing  the UK admissions process is essential for the future of higher education, and what’s best for  students needs to be at the centre of that decision making. There’s no greater evidence that  the system is flawed than only 16% of students achieving the grades their teachers  predicted. This crystal-ball-gazing approach leads to more uncertainty for students which in  turn leads to them feeling anxious and negative about the whole experience.     All of this has been further compounded by GCSE and A-level reform which does not support  students in any way. Let’s hope this review is the start of putting young people first and truly  setting them up for success with a system that is transparent, open and that truly works for  them ​ .”    

Unconditional offers and misleading marketing is also under review. ​With a 26.2%  increase, ‘conditional’ unconditional offers experienced the largest growth in 2019 –  according to the UCAS end of cycle 2019 report. Out of the 59.9% of offers made, a quarter  of applicants received at least one conditional unconditional offer. 

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Back in January 2019, the  OfS described this as a form of “pressure selling” that was “at risk of breaching consumer  law” – and now Sir Barber says the regulator will be looking into “the use of unconditional  offers where students could be pressured into accepting an offer which might not be right for  them”.    

Whilst numbers of these types of offers are on the increase, another survey run by The  Student Room, found that the popularity of the conditional unconditional offer may be  waning, making them less impactful on an applicant’s final decision.  ​Almost half (47%) of  the 557 respondents said they would feel negatively about a university which made them an  offer like this, versus just 20% who would feel positive about it.     The survey also found that close to half (46%) of prospective university students asked for  more government control over the number of offers given out.​ 

Students commented – “I think they can prey on the insecurities of strong students who could do better but are  scared of missing a conditional offer”    

“Personally, I believe they are handed out too freely – 4/5 of my offers state that they will be  unconditional if I put them as my firm, which makes me believe that the universities do not  actually care if I get the grade, instead, they just care about how many places that they fill,  and want to guarantee as many as possible with the appeal of an unconditional offer.”    

More than half of respondents (59%) said their opinion of a university’s reputation would  be ‘quite’ or ‘extremely’ negative if they found out that university made a lot of  unconditional offers, indicating that the over-use of unconditional offers is likely to cause  damage to the brand and reputation of the University.    

“​Deciding on a university is a big life decision for young adults”, comments Katy Olivier,  Community Manager at The Student Room. 

“​Our survey showed that some applicants  believed that unconditional offers could have a negative impact on their motivation to study,  with 39% saying they would feel less motivated to revise for their exams after accepting an  unconditional offer. This is corroborated in the UCAS End of Cycle 2019 report which shows  a direct correlation between unconditional offers and students missing predicted grades ​ ”.    

Speaking about the survey, she continues “​applicants are becoming more aware of how  unconditional offers may underpin a university’s recruitment strategy. The fact that  unconditional offers were viewed negatively by over half of respondents could have direct  impact on their opinion of the University and ultimately devalue the reputation of those who  hand out these offers too widely.”

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