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24th August 2015

BME applicants “unfairly rejected” by Russell Group universities

Researchers found that data indicates BME university applicants are disproportionately rejected a place at university in comparison to similarly-qualified white peers

University applicants from black and minority ethnic backgrounds are significantly less likely to be offered a place than equally-qualified white counterparts, according to research from Durham University.

The paper, titled ‘Exploring ethnic inequalities in admission to Russell Group universities’, was written by Dr Vikki Boliver, senior lecturer in Sociology at Durham University. It explores the reasons why ethnic minorities are “strikingly under-represented” at reputable universities.

Being commonly regarded as “liberal and progressive places,” universities are often assumed to be free of discrimination and racial bias. “However, research… finds racism to be commonplace.”

Out of a sample of 150000 applications made by students in 2010/11 and 2012/13, 54.7 per cent of applications made by white students resulted in an offer, whereas applications from black African applicants were only successful 22 per cent of the time.

For black Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi applicants, the proportion was still only around 30 per cent. On the other hand, mixed ethnicity and Chinese applicants had a level approaching half.

The paper acknowledges that BME applicants tend to apply in greater numbers to oversubscribed courses such as medicine and law—44 per cent as opposed to 17 per cent in white students—but even after tailoring the results to negate this effect, finds a substantial disparity between the numbers of BME students given offers and their white counterparts.

A plausible explanation, says the paper, could be that the admissions process is being driven by a desire to reflect the ethnic makeup of the wider population—actually leading to the unfair rejection of young BME people who have applied for highly competitive courses.

“The goal of ultimate representativeness is inevitably at odds with a concern for equal treatment during the admissions process. This is highly problematic since the 2010 Equality Act expressly forbids the unequal treatment of individual applicants on the basis of ethnicity, including as a result of the use of quotas.”

Boliver calls upon universities to carry out analysis themselves to directly address the sizeable gap between successful white applicants and BME applicants.

Institutions should “conduct detailed analyses of their own admissions data… undertake thorough reviews of their own admissions policies and practices… publish their findings openly and transparently… [and] commit to making the changes required for a fairer and more equitable admissions system.”

Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said “our institutions are fair and treat each individual application on its own merits.

“Real progress has been made over the last few years: the numbers of black students accepted by Russell Group universities went up 40 per cent between 2010 and 2014 and the number of Asian students by 13 per cent. But we are keen to see this trend continue further.

“The research takes no account of the entry requirements for the courses that students apply to. Many good students haven’t taken the subjects needed for entry.

“In addition, the research does not take account of the quality of the application overall, including factors such as the personal statement, or an applicant’s performance at interview.”

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