Imbalance in admissions of disadvantaged students continues as universities fail to act

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A new report from The Office for Students (OfS) has revealed that attempts to redress a stubbornly high equality gap in university admissions, by lowering the bar for disadvantaged students, have failed.

The higher education regulator found that top universities remain “too conservative” when making contextual offers, currently only dropping half an A level grade for disadvantaged students.
Most universities then risk putting “extra strain” on these students, by requiring them to fill in extra forms, undertake a preliminary course or sit an exam. Many also require students to make the university their firm choice.

The OfS urges universities to go further in their attempts to achieve fair access to higher education for disadvantaged student, by adopting “more radical” approaches to contextual admissions.
The report states that currently, the “most educationally advantaged students” are still nearly six times more likely to secure places at the most selective universities in England, than the most disadvantaged.
It suggests that dropping A-level entry requirements to BCC would “broaden the pool of available applicants without lowering standards.” Research found that students admitted to Bristol University with one grade lower than the entry requirements, did just as well, if not better, than those admitted on the standard offer.

Chair of the OfS acknowledged that “A young person from a council estate who gets decent A levels has often had to work a lot harder than the young person from a better off neighbourhood who gets a few grades more. That’s why it is right as this Insight brief highlights- that contextual admissions are now an increasing part of the picture.’
York University announced that as of next year, it will be reducing the contextual offer to disadvantaged students by up to 40 Ucas tariff points, the equivalent of 5 a level grades. A move praised by the OfS
Education Secretary, Damian Hinds said, “A university education should be available to everyone who has the talent to benefit from it and we have made great progress in ensuring universities are open to all, with record rates of disadvantaged 18-year-olds in higher education. But there is more to do and we know that contextual offers can play an important part in levelling the playing field so those from disadvantaged backgrounds can flourish in higher education.”

Newcastle University currently offers reduced offers through the PARTNERS Programme. Amongst others, this is open for those from disadvantaged areas, and those entitled to Free School Meals. The typical offer of AAB at A level is reduced to BBB, but participants must successfully complete the PARTNERS Summer School, and make Newcastle their firm choice on Ucas.

Last modified: 23rd October 2019

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