This blog is part of the series featuring ideas contained in the new HEPI-Brightside report, Reaching the parts of society universities have missed: A manifesto for the new Director for Fair Access and Participation. It showcases the idea from Anna Vignoles, Professor of Education at the University of Cambridge.
Most of the difference in the likelihood of going to university between poorer and richer students can be explained by differences in their prior achievement. However, there remains a socio-economic gap in access to high-status institutions even when we allow for prior achievement. We also know that poorer students are less likely to apply to these institutions. So interventions to influence application behaviour are essential.
We need to understand whether a post A-Level application system would be advantageous for under-represented groups. For example, differences in predicted grades across state and independent schools may disadvantage the former. Further, if poorer students do not aim as high due to a lack of confidence, making choices after they receive their grades should improve fair access. The Office for Students might consider a post A-Level admissions pilot to determine whether it is feasible and could produce gains.
Universities are currently spending a relatively large sum of money on fair access activity. It is essential we understand which activities are effective. Universities and other sector bodies should be required to undertake robust evaluation and the Office for Students should drive forward work setting up a repository for high-quality evidence on what works for widening participation and ensuring fair access.