Image Credit: Rodhullandemu
Nouse research from Freedom of Information requests has revealed a pattern of decreasing strictness by the University with regards to their course requirement standards.
Our research has shown that over the past five years the number of unconditional and reduced offers given out by the University has increased. This could either be a product of rising desperation from York, and therefore a lowering of offers to fill undersubscribed courses, or a response to the increasing difficulty of A-levels, which are forcing universities nationwide to reconsider their course requirements.
The number of unconditional offers given out by the University five years ago in the academic year 2014/15 was 1,572 - nine per cent of the overall number of offers. This figure has risen by just under 1,000 over five years, with 2018/19 yielding 2,465 unconditional offers for prospective students, and 2019/20 resulting in 2,390. While this is also a product of more students coming to York overall, the percentage of unconditional offers in comparison to conditional offers has risen from 2014/15’s nine per cent to 13 per cent in 2018/19 and 12 per cent in 2019/20. The number of unconditional offers a university awards has traditionally been a determining factor of its success, standards and prestige, with universities on the lower end of the league table sending out more unconditional offers than those at the top.
While York’s increasing number of unconditional offers over the years could be a result of the increasing difficulty of A-levels, as well as the fact that these numbers also include unconditional offers given to students who have received their grades prior to getting an offer, it could suggest that the University is struggling to fill undersubscribed courses. This is starker when compared to other Russell Group universities such as Durham and Cambridge, whose unconditional offers only represented 0.1 per cent of the overall number of offers in 2018/19 (shown from research by The Tab.)
For specific courses, this increase of unconditional offers becomes clearer, with courses such as Biology offering 165 unconditional offers this year, as opposed to the 134 they sent out in the year previously. Additionally, York Management Schools’ 238 unconditional offers in 2018/19 has risen to 305 in 2019/20. Whilst these high numbers of unconditional offers could relate to the number of students who already have their grades being offered places, the fact that the number is rising quite heavily as the years go on could perhaps suggest a sense of desperation on the University’s part to fill courses.
However, not only was the increasing number of unconditional offers a potential signifier of lowering standards, but also the number of reduced offers the University has given out over the years may also be a source of concern.
Our research showed that the number of reduced offers the University gives out has drastically risen over the past few years. In the academic year of 2018/19, York reduced the grades of around 1,000 applicants (exact figures cannot be given as the University is unable to provide exact figures for courses that gave out less than five reduced offers.) However, this number has tripled this year with the University giving out 3,080 reductions, which is an increase of more than 2,000.
In terms of specific subjects, Computer Science’s 126 reduced offers in 2018/19 rose to 170 in 2019/20, Sociology gave out less than five reduced offers last year, but offered 70 this year. Shockingly, PPE’s (Philosophy, Politics and Economics Department) number of reduced offers has risen from less than five in 2017/18 to 180 in 2019/20. The PPE department in particular has been highlighted as one of the subjects whose grade requirements and offers has been lowered the most. In summer, Nouse reported that the PPE department had lowered their grade requirements from A*AA to BBB in 2019. Other subjects like Criminology also lowered their requirements, in this case from AAB to BBB.
All of this evidence potentialy shows a reduction in the rigour of course requirement standards from the University over the years. It would be easy to simply label this issue as the University being desperate to fill spaces on undersubscribed courses. However, the larger national picture shows that this is an issue that is affecting universities nationwide, not just York.
This is reinforced by the fact that this year brought about the lowest number of A*/A grades since 2007, with only 25.5 per cent of the country achieving these top grades. This would seem to indicate that Alevels are getting harder, and therefore, universities are being forced to lower their standards to ensure their funding and survival. While it is easy to say that York is becoming desperate to fill spaces, it is also equally clear that the University may simply be responding to the pressures of increased A-level difficulty, and the overall sense that university as an option is becoming a less popular choice due to high tuition and living costs. Universities must increasingly fight for a smaller pool of students.
Regarding this, a spokesperson from the University told Nouse:
“We are committed to maintaining high academic standards and attracting the most able students to the University. The University recognised that the practice of ‘unconditional’ offers has run its course and this stopped in September 2019. We’re expanding our approach to contextual offer making, and we welcome applications from under-represented groups as we recognise that they have the potential to succeed and thrive here as part of the York community.”
We also asked the University as to whether they thought this lowering of offers reduced York’s competitive edge in relation to other Russell Group universities, their representative said:
“We are a world-leading university committed to maintaining high academic standards and we remain a popular choice for rigorous academic study in the UK.”