A university’s request that pupils attend a visit day during term time or perhaps lessen their chances of a place has angered an academy trust.
Schools Week has seen an email sent by the University of Leeds to sixth-formers telling them their presence on an applicant visit day could influence decisions made after A-level results day in August if they “fall short” of expected grades.
An applicant visit day is described on the university’s website as a day for further tours and demonstrations in the faculties, predominantly in science and environment subjects.
An email sent to one applicant, who had already received an offer, by the university’s faculty of environment said: “This is very informal — as you already have your offer – but positive feedback regarding your input on the [visit] day may be taken into account if you fall short of the grades required for entry on to the course in August.”
The email was sent to a year 13 pupil at a school within the United Learning academy chain. A senior leader at the chain said it was concerned about the impact of extra days out of school during pupils’ final year of A-level study.
Stephen Adcock, a deputy director at United Learning, said: “This feels like a creeping attempt by universities to try to win the loyalty of students.
“But in trying to win loyalty . . . it distracts from more pressing issues. If they are going to go to university they need to work hard on their studies.”
He said any emerging trend for universities to require additional visits also highlighted social mobility. “Pupils may not be able to afford to go to Leeds for a day. It is a huge expense, especially for those from a low-income family.”
An off-peak return fare from London King’s Cross to Leeds next week, for example, would cost £103, or £68.20 with a young person’s railcard – which costs £30. United Learning operates schools across England.
Mr Adcock added: “The email implies pupils will be looked upon favourably if they do not reach their grades; this seems like selection through the back door.
“It is not very open or transparent. The Ucas process is transparent for all, but this specific communication from the University of Leeds is not.
“I don’t think many schools would be happy for students to be missing a day from their studies, at a crucial time of the year, to visit a university for which they have already got a place.
“Given the government narrative surrounding term-time holidays, it seems very odd to have a higher education establishment requesting pupils take time off school, or potentially face not being able to attend that university next September.”
The university told Schools Week it was addressing the wording of the email, and were “aware” the message could be interpreted in the way it has.
Lisa Summers, head of admissions, said: “We are committed to delivering a consistent, transparent and fair admissions process.
“Although the university highlights the benefits of attending applicant visit days, these are by no means mandatory and applicants will not be detrimentally affected by an inability to attend, regardless of reason.”