In UK, Black and Asian Students Receive Fewer University Offers

Black and Asian students and those from disadvantaged areas face an uphill battle to be accepted at the universities of their choice, compared with their white and better-off peers, according to new statistics released by the British higher education clearing house, Ucas.

The figures, which reveal data about applications by 18-year-old students broken down by sex, ethnicity and social background at individual universities, show that black and Asian students fail to win undergraduate places with the same rate of success at the bulk of British universities as white students with similar qualifications.

Black students were particularly badly off in the admissions results, with the data for 2015 showing that 108 out of 132 universities offered a lower proportion of places than expected, using a Ucas forecast based on their predicted A-level grades and the courses to which the students applied.

In contrast, more than 100 universities offered a higher proportion of places to white applicants than their qualifications and courses would appear to justify. Just 13 universities out of the 132 offered fewer places than expected to white applicants. Some of the widest gaps in offers appeared at universities with comparatively high rates of black and Asian students enrolled.

Les Ebdon, the director of the Office for Fair Access to Higher Education, said: “Some universities will clearly be very challenged by this data, and I expect them to work hard to understand the discrepancies between applications and offers made for certain groups. I do not accept that an applicant’s ethnicity or where they come from should be a barrier to attending university.”

University officials and representatives from Ucas cautioned against drawing hasty conclusions, arguing that the gap between expected successful applications and offers was the result of a variety of causes that could not be explained by the published data alone.

But Peter Lampl, the chairman of the Sutton Trust, which campaigns for social mobility through education, said: “It’s seriously concerning to see such a strong correlation between your background and your chance of getting an offer, particularly at our leading universities.

“We must not get complacent about inequalities of access. We need to see a renewed effort from universities, government and schools to improve outreach work, subject choices and attainment for those from less advantaged backgrounds.”

Among universities, such as those belonging to the research-intensive Russell Group, the data showed similar patterns of lower offers to black and Asian applicants, compared with those from white backgrounds.

Both Imperial College London and Glasgow University had wide gaps of more than six percentage points between the offers made to black students and the expected proportion of offers, given the A-levels predicted for those students who applied. But a few institutions, such as the London School of Economics, bucked the national trend and extended offers to ethnic minority students at rates higher than their application data would suggest.

The Russell Group’s director general, Wendy Piatt, said the data showed “no evidence of bias within the admissions system” because the figures failed to take into account key information used in the admissions process, such as personal statements or interview performance.

“Ensuring our doors are wide open to talented and able students from all backgrounds really matters to us. The root causes of under-representation are complex and a much wider range of factors need to be taken into account to fully understand the problem,” Piatt said.

Russell Group universities – including Oxford and Manchester – have accepted increasing numbers of black British undergraduates in recent years, rising from 1,690 in 2010 to 2,740 in 2015.

The new details were voluntarily released by Ucas after recent pressure by the government, including a public campaign by David Cameron calling on universities to be more transparent in their admissions processes. But the last tranche of figures is unlikely to satisfy the government, which is adding a requirement that all universities publish more admissions data.

Jo Johnson, the universities minister, gave a cautious welcome to the publication of the figures, but will warn in a speech on Thursday that universities need to do more in providing clear guidance for future students.

“We want students to make informed choices between institutions and courses – and this is especially important for those from disadvantaged and under-represented backgrounds,” Johnson is to tell the Higher Education Policy Institute’s conference in London.

“I’m pleased that Ucas is today publishing data from around 100 universities on a voluntary basis. This is something the prime minister called for in January and it’s heartening to see the sector respond constructively.

“But this is only a voluntary data release, and there are around a hundred institutions that were not covered. That’s why we are legislating to introduce a new transparency duty to cover all institutions.”

The figures also showed wide gaps in successful applications from students in areas where few people go on to higher education. Analysis by the Sutton Trust and by the Wonkhe higher education thinktank, showed that some institutions, such as Imperial College, were less likely to offer places to those from the least-educated areas, despite their qualifications.

The Sutton Trust said students applying from those areas were less likely to receive offers at any university, but that the effect was more pronounced at the most selective institutions.

Dame Julia Goodfellow, president of lobby group Universities UK and vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, said: “Publishing more data will not necessarily solve some of the longstanding problems in access to and participation in higher education. It will, however, allow universities to identify issues and solutions specific to their own institutions.”