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Poorer students put at disadvantage by university application process, charity warns

Study says the current system relies too heavily on predicted grades and personal statements

Alina Polianskaya
Tuesday 19 December 2017 02:07 GMT
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Bright students from poorer backgrounds are more likely to get worse predicted grades
Bright students from poorer backgrounds are more likely to get worse predicted grades

A leading social mobility charity has called for an overhaul of the university application process, after new research found the current system could be putting poorer teenagers at a disadvantage.

The research found the current process relies too heavily on predicted grades and personal statements, both of which could work against poorer students.

The study by Gill Wyness of the UCL Institute of Education found bright students from poorer backgrounds were more likely to be predicted lower A-Level grades than they actually achieve.

About 1,000 disadvantaged, high-achieving students a year have their grades under-predicted, according to the study.

"Evidence shows that the majority of grades are over-predicted, which could encourage students to make more aspirational choices. However, high-attaining disadvantaged students are more likely to have their grades under-predicted than their richer counterparts,” the study said.

As a result, disadvantaged students may be applying to courses with lower entry requirements than they are capable of getting, it has been suggested.

The Sutton Trust has recommended the system be changed so teenagers can apply to university after they know their actual results, to level out the playing field for young people from all backgrounds.

The charity’s chairman Sir Peter Lampl, said: "Access to leading universities has improved and they are working hard to attract a wider applicant pool.

"However, the brightest disadvantaged students, given their grades, are under-represented at leading universities. The admission process itself may be responsible for this."

He added: "Accordingly, the Sutton Trust is recommending we move to a post-qualification applications system. This is where students apply only after they have received their A-level results.

"This does away with predicted grades. Having actual grades on application empowers the student. They can pick the right course at the right university with a high degree of certainty they are making the right choice."

The most advantaged students were currently around six times more likely to go to a university with the highest entry requirements than the most disadvantaged, according to 2016 figures.

The research branded the current system as “complex” and “time-consuming”, with many of its elements likely to put poorer students at a disadvantage. It said that over-reliance on personal statements creating a further issue.

The study added: "Those from disadvantaged backgrounds are less likely to be supported in preparing these essays, and as such their statements tend to contain more grammatical and spelling errors.”

“But those from deprived backgrounds are also able to provide fewer examples of the types of work and life experiences that many colleges and universities value, and use to decide between applicants."

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