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Universities making unconditional offers may be breaking the law by “pressure selling”’ to students, the higher education watchdog has warned.The number of unconditional offers has risen sharply in recent years, with students now 30 times more likely to receive one than five years ago.Fierce competition between universities to attract students has seen sixth form pupils increasingly offered places regardless of their exam results. Some institutions hand out “incentivised” offers, where they tell students that their offer will be unconditional but only if they accept it as their first choice university.Now the Office for Students (OfS) has warned that applying “psychological pressure” or “creating an impression of urgency” in decision making could be a potential breach of consumer protection law.It comes as the regulator publishes a report that examines the impact of unconditional offers on students’ decision making. It found that applicants who accept an unconditional offer are more likely to miss their predicted A-level grades by two or more grades.Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the OfS, said: “We are concerned about the rapid rise in unconditional offers, particularly those with strings attached which are akin to pressure selling.”It is plainly not in students’ interests to push them to accept an offer that may not be their best option.” Ms Dandridge said that universities should not be putting their own interests before that of students, who should be encouraged to make an informed decision about which offer to accept. A-level results day: Critics warn that unconditional offers mean students take their “foot off the pedal”Credit:JAMES SPEAKMAN / MERCURY PRESS “If we identify cases where unconditional offers are having an obvious negative impact on students’ choices or outcomes, we are of course prepared to intervene,” she said. Under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, “aggressive” selling tactics are banned, which includes a seller exerting “undue influence” on a consumer by psychological means.According to the regulations, “undue influence means exploiting a position of power in relation to the consumer so as to apply pressure, even without using or threatening to use physical force, in a way which significantly limits the consumer’s ability to make an informed decision”.Education Secretary Damian Hinds said that the steep rise in unconditional offers is “disturbing” and should not be used as a tactic to “get students through the door”.He added: “What I find particularly concerning is the OfS’s finding of how many of those accepting unconditional offers then miss their predicted A Level grades, because if university didn’t work out for that student it is those A Level grades they would fall back on. “That’s why I am urging universities to use their offers responsibly and not just use unconditional offers to get students through the door.” David Hughes, chief executive of the Association of Colleges, said that schools have been increasingly concerned about the impact unconditional offers have on student motivation and achievement. “Colleges and schools are dealing with the unintended consequence of the practice as students worry less about their grades and so take their foot off the gas,” he said. “The OfS consultation will need to address potential solutions to drastically reduce or even rule-out this practice.” A spokeswoman for Universities UK said: “We will explore with Ucas if there is more we can do as a sector to promote good practice and ensure the admissions system continues to work in the best interests of students.”We will also engage with the Office for Students as it consults with the higher education sector on its work to develop principles for an admissions system that serves the interests of students.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.