Ben HaywardJuly 24th

A survey has revealed that nearly three-quarters of students think universities should take the backgrounds of applicants into account.

According to the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi), 47% of those surveyed think the entry bar should be lowered for students from disadvantaged areas. 

The survey of over 1,000 full-time undergraduates, found 72% of students thought admissions should take into account an applicant’s background when offering places, while a similar number (73%) thought it was more difficult to achieve good exam results growing up in a disadvantaged area.


However, the results also showed that over a third (38%) think people admitted with lower grades would struggle to keep up with their course.

Director of Hepi, Nick Hillman, said: “Giving disadvantaged applicants lower entry offers is one of the most controversial things that universities do. But there is a secure evidence base for it, as many people underperform at school and college because of their personal circumstances.”

Mr Hillman added: “Our poll shows the principles behind contextual offers are widely accepted by students, who believe disadvantaged applicants need a boost.

“Yet most students don’t know if their own university awards contextual offers and only half of students think lower entry offers are right.”


Chris Millward, fair access and participation director at the Office for Students, said: “Significant changes are needed to ensure that the admissions process looks beyond grades to identify merit, recognising the potential of talented candidates from underrepresented backgrounds who have so much to offer to their fellow students, university community and wider society.

“So it is positive to see that students broadly support universities taking applicants’ background into account when making offers – even when they will not themselves personally benefit from this practice – and don’t believe that those who receive these kinds of contextual offers will do worse.

Paul Cottrell, acting general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said it was encouraging that students recognise that not all exam achievements are equal.


He added: “The best way to deliver fairness is better use of contextualised offers and to radically overhaul the system so students can apply to university after they receive their results.”

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “We want to see universities continuing to take steps to level the playing field for those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“There are many good examples of institutions considering a broad range of information in their offers, including the context in which a student’s results were achieved, to ensure that opportunities are open to all.”

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