A recent report from the UCL Centre for Economic Purpose has demonstrated that students for low incomes are less likely to attend top universities and study the most ‘academically selective’ courses in Britain even if they have achieved the high A Level grades.
The study further states that alongside this ‘mismatching’ of lower SES (socioeconomic status) to university courses, they are likelier to earn less money over the course of their careers than their peers from more financially advantaged backgrounds.
The report suggests that commonly proposed explanations for this gap, such as students with more modest SES statuses tending to go to attend universities closer to their family home and studying courses that are more competitive, were not demonstrated to have significant impact on the gap.
The University of Edinburgh has used ‘contextual offers,’ which have taken into account various criteria in the life course of applicants that may have resulted in students of similar ability not achieving lower A level grades.
Contextual grades are those set against minimum grades which all students receiving offers must achieve to ensure that they have what the university describes as the ‘ability to succeed academically.’
The university detailed certain criteria when making decisions to make contextual offers which include: home postcode based on Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD) data, the school or college attended and the percentage of student it sends to higher education and whether the applicant has had time in care.
Some criticisms, however, have been targeted at an alleged overreliance on the SIMD. An academic paper by Drs Lindsay Paterson, Lucy Hunter Blackburn and Elisabet Weedon calls the measure ‘crude’ and states that a postcode approach has in some cases led to benefits to advantaged applicants as well as those whom it was intended to aid.
The paper calls for the use of a system which takes into account more detailed aspects of advantage, such as parental level of education alongside wider neighbourhood analysis to better target widening participation schemes.
The use of limited criteria by the university has potentially not take into account other possible measures that could be used to analyse deprivation such as household income and employment status.
Data from 2018 shows that the University offered 11% of its places to students from the 20% of the most deprived areas in Scotland after it adopted a policy of giving all clearing places for the year to help meet government targets on social diversity and continued this in 2019.
The university’s more recent Widening Participation Strategy 2018-21, however, documents the institution’s plans for recruiting a more socially diverse student body. This is through such measures as using guaranteed offers for students from deprived backgrounds who meet minimum academic requirements and ensuring students are aware of the financial support that they are entitled to.
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