Challenging universities

It’s great to see some universities overhauling their applications processes to become more diverse, but something that caught my eye earlier was this new kind of offer being made to applicants.

‘Conditional unconditional’ offers on the riseBBC News
Conditional unconditional offers give students a place – regardless of their A-level grades – on condition they make the university their firm first choice. Critics say they encourage students not to work hard to get the best A-levels.

You could say that about any kind of unconditional offer, of course. As Mike Ratcliffe, Nottingham Trent University’s Academic Registrar, explains below, this new type of offer does have the worrying feel of ‘pressure selling’ about it.

The evidence against conditional unconditionals doesn’t stack upWonkhe
One concern expressed around conditional unconditional offers hinges on when a conditional offer made via UCAS is converted to an unconditional offer if the student accepts that provider as their firm choice, in particular if there is an arbitrary time limit. This is the source of the potential, it has been suggested, for universities to engage in “pressure selling”. In our view, there should be no need to require a student to choose before they have all their offers or outside of the standard UCAS decision dates.

But going back to that point about potentially disincentivising students to do well at their A-Levels, he suggests that’s less of an issue.

Another concern is whether applicants with conditional unconditional offers are more likely to coast through the remainder of their level 3 qualifications and thus miss their predicted grades. National data show it is the applicants with higher predicted grades who miss their grades the most; at NTU it is these very students to whom we make conditional unconditional offers. Our statistical modelling suggests that only a tiny proportion (1.2%) of the variables explaining our students’ propensity to miss their predicted grades can be attributed to holding conditional unconditional offers. This is consistent with the UCAS analysis in its End of Year Cycle report in 2018 which concluded: less than 2 per cent of applicants that missed their predicted A levels by two or more grades in 2018, did so as a result of holding an unconditional firm.

I was amused by this other article on WonkHE from Paul Greatrix, the Registrar from Nottingham’s other university, about the latest developments in online courses—‘nanodegrees’. I don’t think he’s a fan.

Stack ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap – get your micro-credentials hereWonkhe
But despite all the hype around MOOCs and the like, universities and their traditional offerings have proved remarkably resilient and therefore the logical next step was for the MOOC providers to start offering actual qualifications themselves. Not traditional awards of course but excitingly named micro-credentials, nano-degrees and micro-masters courses all of which were described as ‘stackable’ qualifications and would, again, destroy universities with all of their tedious, fusty old style qualifications. […]

It remains to be seen whether there is significant demand for these excitingly labelled new programmes and whether they will prove as popular as these extremely small awards previously promoted on Wonkhe.

But given the treatment that MOOCs, advocates of ‘unbundling’ higher ed and those who favour the ‘uber-isation’ of HE receive in Audrey Watters’ wonderful list of the 100 worst ed-tech debacles of the last decade you have to ask if MicroBachelors™ or the like are going anywhere fast.

Author: Terry Madeley

I enjoy reading about art and design, culture, data, education, technology and the web. I'm confused by a lot of it, to be honest.

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