University entry should consider students’ backgrounds and not just exam results

The university access watchdog in the UK has called for universities to take students’ background into account when awarding places. This is to improve “equality of opportunity” as A-Level grades are a “robust measure” only if the applicants’ “context” is also considered. The director of fair access and participation at the Office for Students’, Mr Millward, said that universities are “a long way from equality of opportunity in relation to access to higher education” and calls for an “ambitious approach to contextual admissions” to make progress on this front.

This includes taking into account family income, whether an applicant lives in a deprived area or if they attended a school with poor exam results. There might also be extra consideration given to applications from disadvantaged pupils or they might be offered places on lower grades.

“Contextual admission” however, is not without its on share of controversies. Top universities have faced accusations of being socially exclusive and recruiting too few applicants from ethnic minorities while at the same time facing scrutiny for being unfair to individual applicants who might lose out on places to disadvantaged candidates with worse results. Thus, there needs to be much more transparency about how universities use the background of applicants when making offers and awarding places.

I agree that while grades should be just a portion of the consideration for university applicants, incorporating other contextual elements into the university admissions process may contribute to a decline in meritocracy. While the intention is good, a very fine balance needs to be struck and this needs to be constantly scrutinised by a system of stringent checks to ensure complete fairness.

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