UCAS chief: ‘Danger’ poor students could ‘fall behind’ in university admissions

There is a “danger” the university admission disadvantage gap could widen this year, the chief executive of UCAS has said.

While there has been an increase in applications from the most disadvantaged pupils this year, Clare Marchant said there has been a larger rise in applications from the most wealthy.

Speaking at a Higher Education Policy Institute event today, Marchant added: “I just think that gap between the most advantaged students and the most disadvantaged students, which has been reducing over a number of years – we want to keep an eye on that this year.

“Everyone has been disadvantaged by the pandemic, but there is a danger that we have those most disadvantaged fall behind.”

However, the gap in progression rates by age 19 between free school meal and non-free school meal pupils has increased by 18.8 percentage points – up 0.2 percentage points since last year and the highest gap since 2006-07.

She said universities were working “really hard” to support students.

It comes as the Sutton Trust this week said universities should give “additional consideration to disadvantaged students who have just missed out on their offer grades”.

This year, UCAS will be providing individual level data on FSM to universities for first time, something equality campaigners have been calling for to help contextual admissions.

‘Hopeful’ no ‘tsunami’ of appeals

There had been fears over masses of appeals against teacher grades this year. But Marchant said her worries had lessened and she was “hopeful” there is not a “tsunami” on the way.

“I think if you had asked me about three or four weeks ago, I’d have said this is one of our key concerns. I think it’s diminishing over time.

I think we need to look at the provision and preliminary grades in Scotland and Wales, have they had a tsunami of appeals there? Anecdotally no.

“If we have record numbers – 80 per cent plus get their first place – you’ve really got to be a small cohort that go into the appeals territory.”

A surge in applications amid likely grade inflation has caused problems for some universities.

The University of Exeter has seen a significant increase in first-choice applications for medicine.

But because of a cap on course numbers, students are being offered incentives including a year’s free accommodation and a bursary of £10,000 to delay starting the course.

Marchant thinks “there will be some incentives” this year in “hotspots or pressure points. But again, you do have some of that in any year.”


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