Minister’s attempt to curb unconditional offers is illegal, say universities

Leading academics are accusing the government of unlawfully threatening their autonomy by trying to curb the use of unconditional offers. The Guardian reports. 

Last month the education secretary, Damian Hinds, accused universities of using “pressure-selling” tactics to woo students. He wrote to 23 universities urging them to stop the “unethical” practice of “conditional unconditional offers” – a guaranteed place regardless of the student’s A-level results on condition they make the university their first choice. He also asked the Office for Students to set up a review of whether university admissions practices are serving students.

Prof David Green, vice-chancellor of Worcester University, which was not one of those singled out for bad practice, says: “We support the most vigorous opposition to this calculated attempt to introduce damaging state control over university admissions.” He adds: “In my view the secretary of state is treading a very dangerous, authoritarian course and if we don’t stand up for university independence now, we will regret it for a generation and more.”

Alarmed university chiefs have taken legal advice and warn that the secretary of state is contravening the new Higher Education and Research Act by attempting to control their admissions policies. The act states that the government must protect institutional autonomy, and any guidance the secretary of state gives the OfS must not relate to the criteria for admissions or how institutions apply them.

The head of one university that is considering challenging the government, says: “Our legal advice was pretty unequivocal in supporting our view that the secretary of state is acting unlawfully, in direct contradiction to the act.”

And the vice-chancellor of a Russell Group university says: “The real issue here isn’t unconditional offers, it is the attack on autonomy. Admissions are not a matter for the secretary of state. This is all part of a trend whereby countries that reduce funding for higher education replace it with increased regulation.”

Prof David Green, like other vice-chancellors, feels Hinds’s comments have damaged the reputation of English universities, by implying that they are more interested in getting bums on seats than in student welfare. “I challenge the secretary of state to provide a single case of a student being ‘backed into a corner’ as he put it, or pressure selling. To make such a deeply damaging assertion without producing a shred of evidence is astonishing.”

Read the full article Minister’s attempt to curb unconditional offers is illegal, say universities

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