Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Universities and offer-making to ethnic minority applicants

Today’s media coverage has highlighted differences in offers made to applicants across ethnic groups by some universities, as well as the difficult issues surrounding the use of individual-level data for research and other purposes.

Dr Mark Corver, UCAS’ Head of Analysis and Research explains that UCAS' analysis indicates that differences in offer rates are largely explained by grades and the course’s popularity.

He also describes UCAS' recently published analysis on application and entry rates by ethnic group and how powerful data can in fact be provided without personal disclosure.

Competition for offers at some universities can be very intense - your chance of getting an offer can vary five-fold across just a few A level grades. This means even small differences in attainment between different applicant groups will quickly show up as a difference in offer rates.

When University of Durham researchers described their findings last year, we immediately looked in detail at offer-making to applicants of different ethnic groups. We found that although the chances of getting an offer do differ, the large majority of these differences can be attributed to the popularity of the course applied to and the relative strength of entry qualifications. 

These factors don’t account for all the differences though. The offer rate to Black applicants is around 2 percentage points lower than expected. We found a similar effect for Asian applicants.  No one should be put off applying by these differences which are equivalent to much less than a single A level grade out of a set of three - but even these small differences warrant further investigation.

We have also recently expanded our reporting of application and entry rates to cover ethnic group. For example, our 2013 End of Cycle report (pages 76-79) showed trends in entry rates by ethnic group and background to different types of universities. This showed young entry rates for all ethnic groups increased last year and the entry rates to the most selective universities for Black young people from 'free school meal' (and other backgrounds) increased very substantially in 2013. We will report on this again for 2014.

This new work is possible because of the recent investment we’ve made in capturing key information such as A level grades in a systematic form suitable for analysis. 

There is a growing appreciation that providing detailed individual-level data presents a high risk of individuals' personal details being disclosed. We've been tackling this problem through designing new ways of commissioning powerful, detailed aggregated data that does not identify individuals and so can be accessed and shared widely. We will be providing more details on this in autumn 2014.

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