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Russell group unis ‘unfairly rejecting ethnic minorities'

REJECTED: An academic claims Russell Group institutions are rejectinga applications from ethnic minority students

SOME OF Britain's most selective universities could be wrongfully rejecting applications from ethnic minority students, according to an academic.

Dr Vikki Boliver’s analysis of more than 151,000 applications to Russell Group institutions between 2010-11 and 2012-13 found that, while 54.7 per cent of applications submitted by white students resulted in offers, the success rates for black and minority ethnic students were considerably lower, the Times Higher Education (THE) reported.

They were as low as 21.9 per cent for applications from students with a black African background, 30.3 per cent for students of Pakistani heritage and 43.1 per cent for applicants with an Indian background.

Dr Boliver, senior lecturer in sociology and social policy at Durham University, said that the imbalance cannot be fully explained by prior academic attainment or ethnic minority students’ tendency to choose courses that are more competitive, since they remain less likely to be accepted once these factors are controlled for.

What Dr Boliver found, according to an article in Sociology, is that ethnic inequalities in admissions widened as the percentage of ethnic minority applicants to a course increased.

She said that, while white candidates applied to degree subject areas where ethnic minorities made up less than 20 per cent of all applicants on average, ethnic minority students applied to programmes where ethnic minorities typically made up about 33 per cent of applicants.

An increase in the percentage of ethnic minority applicants to a course improved the odds of a white applicant receiving an offer, while it reduced the chances of success for most ethnic minority students, THE said.

Dr Boliver suggested that some admissions tutors could have been trying to shape the ethnic mix of their cohort with the goal of “ultimate representativeness”, THE reported.

Although admission officers are not given information about the ethnicity of applicants, they are probably able to deduce many students’ ethnic backgrounds from their names and other information on their Ucas forms, she said.

“A plausible explanation for the observed pattern is that, consciously or unconsciously, some admissions selectors are unfairly rejecting some ethnic minority applicants in order to achieve an entering class with an ethnic mix that is ultimately representative of, say, the wider national population,” Dr Boliver said.

“Because ethnic minorities apply in disproportionately high numbers for certain courses at certain institutions, the goal of ultimate representativeness is inevitably at odds with a concern for equal treatment during the admissions process.”

Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, told The that admissions staff didn't only judge an applicant's gradesl and that significant progress had been made in black and ethnic minority recruitment.

“Ensuring our doors are wide open to able students from all backgrounds really matters to Russell Group universities,” Dr Piatt said. “Our institutions are fair and treat each individual application on its own merits.”