Secret Teacher: unconditional offers give students no incentive to work hard

The notion of university education as a buyer’s market rather than an academic pursuit is a cultural shift many of us were not ready for writes the Secret Teacher in The Guardian.

When I became the head of sixth-form for a large comprehensive school in 2013, unconditional offers were the holy grail of university admissions. You were more likely to find diamonds on Brighton beach. That same year, the government lifted the cap on the number of university places available; institutions could no longer be fined for taking on more students than allocated by the government. The free market was finally here.

Despite a rise in university fees, the initial result was an increase in the number of applications year after year. The most academically able were being fought over with some institutions using unconditional offers as a way of headhunting the most talented students in a much more competitive arena.

The cynic in me sees this as a money-making exercise. Students mean money, but for the first time in a long while the number of applications fell by 5% across the UK and 7% from within the EU in 2017. Now, universities are pulling out all the stops to get bums on seats.

Some students flourish without the stress of performance hanging over them. Others, however, take their foot off the pedal. One student didn’t complete their coursework, because they “had got in anyway”. Another, a few years ago, didn’t even bother to show up for an exam.

This year, the bulk of the unconditional offers arrived in the spring, leaving several important months of learning still to go through. But the mantra of “short-term sacrifice, long-term gain” rarely holds sway for a student who need not turn up for another lesson or pick up a book at home.

I’m glad that, despite the high number of unconditional offers made to students, only around half were accepted as firm choices. My plea to universities is to please do this with thought; don’t make unconditional offers a default for earning extra income. Offer scholarships as an incentive, knock down grades for the most able students, but please don’t take away the incentive for them to work hard.

Read more Secret Teacher: unconditional offers give students no incentive to work hard

What do you you think? Do pupils at your school have a tendency to stop working when they receive an unconditional offer?  Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~ Tamsin

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