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Can/Should the pronoun "they" be removed in the following sentence?

Some universities set high standards towards their students, so students cannot receive further education unless they achieve excellent academic results.

I always use a pronoun in such cases, but my friends said it is omissible which made me feel very uncomfortable reading the sentence without it. Can the word "they" be omitted? Is it the common practice?

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    I assume your friends aren't native speakers. The only way you can avoid having to explicitly (re-)specify the subject (they) for the relevant verb (achieve) is to recast into passive voice: ...unless excellent academic results are achieved. But that's pretty clumsy in your specific context. – FumbleFingers Reinstate Monica Jul 20 '17 at 12:57
  • No. without it, it sounds ungrammatical. (does 'students cannot receive further education unless achieve excellent academic results' really sound better?) The first clause is a little awkward too. – marcellothearcane Jul 20 '17 at 12:58
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    What would your new sentence look like? Building that into your question will help. – Yosef Baskin Jul 20 '17 at 14:34
  • "set standards towards" is unidiomatic to me – Xanne Jul 20 '17 at 21:11
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Some universities set high standards towards their students, so students cannot receive further education unless they achieve excellent academic results.

Let's address your direct question. No, you cannot omit "they". If you did, the verb "achieve" would have no subject.

With "they" in place, the sentence is grammatically sound, but there are problems with clarity/semantics. As someone else pointed out, "set standard towards" is not idiomatic at all. You set standard(s) for, not towards. In addition, "they" is a bit of a dangling reference. Who are "they"? The universities or the students?

I would phrase this sentence as follows:

Some universities set high standards for their students, such that students cannot continue further education without achieving excellent academic results.

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I assume your friends aren't native speakers. The only way you can avoid having to explicitly (re-)specify the subject (they) for the relevant verb (achieve) is to recast into passive voice: ...unless excellent academic results are achieved. But that's pretty clumsy in your specific context. – FumbleFingers

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