Give more places to disadvantaged students, watchdog urges universities

The new higher education watchdog, the Office for Students (OfS), is urging universities to pay more attention to socio-economic and school background, rather than just A-level grades, when deciding to award a place to a student. The Guardian reports.

It wants institutions to be more ambitious on what are known as “contextual admissions”, offering places to students who have the potential to study at the highest level, but may be at a disadvantage because of background and school.

Most universities already use contextual data in their admissions process as part of efforts to widen access to their courses, but while lower- and middle-tier universities have made advances, leading institutions have been criticised for their “incredibly slow” progress on recruiting from the most disadvantaged groups.

The Fair Education Alliance (FEA) study, based on research from the University of Exeter, says institutions should be required to publicise the contextual data they use in admissions by including it on the UCAS application page for each course. 

Speaking at the report launch on Tuesday, the OfS director of fair access and participation Chris Millward is expected say: “An ambitious approach to contextual admissions must be central to our strategy if we are going to make progress on access at the scale and pace necessary to meet the expectations of government, students and the wider public.

Sam Butters, FEA chief executive, said: We know that parents’ income, the quality of school attended, and a myriad of other background factors affect educational outcomes for young people, including how well they do in their exams and their likelihood of progressing to higher education.

“Contextualised admissions are a way of overcoming this challenge and recognising the additional barriers disadvantaged young people face but we need some changes to how the practice is being used for it to be effective.”

Read more Give more places to disadvantaged students, watchdog urges universities

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