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Universities urged to give more places to disadvantaged

ACCESS: Experts want higher education institutions to give applicants' parents' income and school background more consideration in the admissions process

THE OFFICE for Students is calling on higher education institutions to give greater consideration to the socio-economic and formal education background of applicants when making the decision whether or not to award them a place on a course.

The higher education watchdog says universities need to take “an ambitious approach” to improving access and devising plans to narrow the inequality gaps.

Chris Millward, director of fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said: “We are a long way from equality of opportunity in relation to access to higher education. So in the coming years, I will be expecting universities and colleges to set more ambitious targets in their access and participation plans to narrow the gaps. This will include measures to increase the pool of applicants with the high levels of attainment needed to enter many universities. But if we wait the years this will take to achieve, we will fail the next generation of students.”

Millward added: “A level grades can only be considered to be a robust measure of potential if they are considered alongside the context in which they are achieved.”

Contextual data, such as parents’ income, is considered alongside A level results as part of the admissions process at most universities. But higher-tier institutions have been singled out for the “incredibly slow” rate of progress in improving access for students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

In 2015, Oxford University admitted just 85 students from disadvantaged backgrounds, a report by the thinktank Reform found.

The CEO of the Fair Education Alliance, Sam Butters, said: “We want to see change in widening participation within the most selective universities. 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.”

The UK’s top universities have also been in the firing line for failing to increase diversity and representation.

Data released earlier this year revealed that Oxford University offered places to 49 students from the eminent Westminster School in London in 2017, more offers than were given to the total number of black students in the UK.

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