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UCAS to combat claims of ethnic bias with ‘name-blind’ applications

ByAmanda Ho

Nov 3, 2015

Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is set to “name-blind” its university applications from 2017, in a bid to address complaints of bias against students from ethnic minorities.

The announcement follows accusations by a renowned research professor of Durham University, Dr Vikki Boliver, claiming UCAS exercises discrimination during its admissions offers process.

Her conclusions, reported by The Student at the beginning of October, stated that about 55 per cent of white applicants received offers which contrasted the 22 per cent of ethnic minority applicants.

Prime Minister David Cameron said to The Guardian that this initiative reflected a set of goals of a “modern, compassionate Conservative party that wants to extend social mobility”.

Mr Cameron continued by explaining the success of the government in convincing many major graduate employers to anonymise the names of their job applicants. These include large corporations such as the BBC, NHS, HSBC, Deloitte and KPMG.

He continued to describe the process of ‘name-blinding’, in which it involves “those assessing applications will not be able to see the person’s name, so the ethnic or religious background it might imply cannot influence their prospects”.

In addressing the disparities between offers given to white and black applicants, the Prime Minister referred to a range of complex reasons.

“[….] Unconscious bias is clearly a risk. So, we have agreed with UCAS that it will make its applications name-blind, too, from 2017,” he said.

Mary Curnock Cook, Chief Executive of UCAS plans to discuss ‘name-blinding’ applications as well as other areas that potentially affect the application prospects for minority ethnic students with various UK universities. This will form part of a wider redevelopment process aimed at better managing UCAS applications.

“One of the benefits of our unique national admissions service means that it is possible both to identify and address issues of under-representation. UCAS is deeply committed to increasing participation from disadvantaged groups.”

Despite accusations of unconscious bias, Cook claims there has been an increase in access to higher education by young students originating from black and ethnic minority groups since 2006.

“The entry rate for English 18-year-old state school students recorded in the black ethnic group has increased from 20.9 per cent in 2006 to 34.3 per cent in 2014, a proportional increase of 64 per cent.”

Speaking to The Student, second-year University of Edinburgh student Mayowa Omogbenigun, who is also founding editor-in-chief of VENUS Magazine, an online magazine centred on intersectional issues of racial diversity, equality and feminism, said: “I don’t think the whole name-blind thing confronts the issue of race and discrimination […] but I do think it is a positive step forward because it tries to make a more level playing field for people of colour in the admissions process.”

She told The Student:  “[the admissions process] is already so opaque and you don’t know what to do to get into a good university because it is not only based on your grades or your personal statement, so it is already so difficult through UCAS and navigating your way to a university.”

Universities and science minister, Jo Johnson said in his speech to the Universities UK conference last month that the government wants to seek a 20 per cent increase “in the number of black and minority ethnic students going to university by 2020”.

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