Rules of the Game analyses the university admissions process in the UK and looks at whether it may be a potential driver of the access gap. This is an area that is surprisingly under-researched, given that the pursuit of ‘fair access’ for students into the most selective universities remains high on the policy agenda. Authored by Gill Wyness, the report discusses how the UK’s admissions process is highly centralised, complex, time consuming, and requires young people to make potentially life-changing decisions far in advance of university entry. Many of the elements of this process may put students from poorer backgrounds at a disadvantage.
The report looks in particular at three key elements:
- The UCAS form
- The Predicted Grades system
- Personal Statements
- Post Qualification Admissions (PQA) should be trialled and implemented. Measures should be explored to minimise the effects on the current examination and admissions timetable.
- Universities and UCAS should review the personal statement, including whether it is beneficial to the application process, and considering if the format could be improved to ensure it is a fair indicator of all applicants’ potential.
- Universities should use contextual data in their admissions process to open up access to students from less privileged backgrounds. Highly selective universities in particular, where low and middle income students are substantially under-represented, should make greater use of contextual admissions, including reduced grade offers, to widen access.
- There should be greater transparency from universities when communicating how contextual data is used and how personal statements are evaluated across departments. Information should be shared widely and effectively with applicants, schools and teachers. If they are to take advantage of access measures, it is crucial that applicants are aware if and how they may benefit from contextualisation. Universities should publicise the criteria for contextual admissions clearly on their websites, along with how and when they are taken into account.
- All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional impartial advisers. For those facing disadvantage – or who are at risk of failing to reach their potential – there should be further support available, including being supported to undertake and reflect upon academic enrichment activities for the personal statement. Staff training should ensure that key messages are consistent and based on up to date guidelines. The Careers and Enterprise Company should also be resourced and encouraged to trial and identify what works in careers advice for disadvantaged pupils.