Access tsar: admit university students based on ‘potential’

The Telegraph is reporting that universities have been told to admit students based on “academic potential” after figures showed that pupils from relatively wealthy areas were significantly more likely to be admitted to sought-after institutions than their poorer peers…

Prof Les Ebdon, the Government’s fair access tsar, said universities should be committed to “searching out academic potential wherever it is found” to create a better social mix on campuses.

He insisted students’ future chances of success were “not only reflected in existing qualifications”, suggesting that those with lower A-level results may do as well as those with top grades.

Prof Ebdon, head of the Office for Fair Access, said there was “no conflict between fair access and academic excellence”.

His comments came as figures published in the watchdog’s annual report showed that the most “advantaged” students – those from the 20 per cent of postcodes with the largest numbers of educated parents – were eight times more likely to be admitted to a top university than those from the bottom fifth.

When comparing access to all universities, the most advantaged were still 2.5 times more likely to be admitted than the poorest.

The report said the figures highlighted “a concerning inequality in the subject choices of disadvantaged students and the type of institution they apply to and subsequently study at”.

It also emerged that OFFA intervened to put pressure on more than 40 universities last year for failing to open up to the poor. This included requiring them to spend more money on outreach programmes and create more “ambitious” admissions targets.

Universities have come under pressure to lower entry requirements for students from poorer backgrounds to recognise their potential and the extra hurdles they have to jump to get onto a degree course.

The move has been criticised by some headmasters amid claims that a blanket lowering of entry grades for some pupils risks penalising bright students from successful schools…

The OFFA report said that in the last year there had been “positive trends” in terms of recruiting pupils from poor backgrounds.

Some 20.7 per cent of pupils from the poorest areas in England got university places last year compared with just 10.7 per cent a decade ago, it emerged.

But the report said there was “still large disparities in participation rates based on a student’s background”…

See also: University support for poorer school leavers must not ‘stop at the front door’

Welcome comments from Prof Ebdon or consider all grades equally, irrespective of a candidate’s school or background? Please let us know in the comments or via Twitter… 


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  1. andylutwyche

    SchoolsImprove How do you do this without inviting a law suit from those who don’t get in? Great idea, difficult to implement

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