CEER Report on University Admissions

7 November 2015

The Green Paper proposes to double the entry rate of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, and raise the number of black and minority ethnic students by 20 per cent by 2020.

CEER’s latest publication, Social Disadvantage and Widening Access to Universities (report here) shows that the Government’s goals go against the grain of the evidence on student performance.

The Government’s figures on social disadvantage are those for areas where few go to university. Doubling the percentage from these areas comes up against the fact that, currently, those admitted are 11 percentage points less likely to gain a good degree.

Minority ethnic pupils are both more likely to be admitted to university and do less well there. Of those gaining A-levels, 64% Asian, 61% Black, and 45% White entered university the following year. But 76% of the White graduates gained good degrees compared with 63% Asian and 49% Black.

There are already official benchmarks for admissions from under-represented groups. The higher education institutions that are furthest adrift from them are the specialist music colleges. This is because they necessarily recruit on talent.

Professor Smithers said: “Universities face a difficult dilemma. If they stick to offering places on merit the Government’s targets are unlikely to be met, but if they comply then they will struggle to keep up their degree standards.

The targets are both misguided and unnecessary. Misguided because they pressurize universities into recruiting on social grounds rather than talent. Unnecessary because now the cap on university places is off, the percentages lose their meaning.”