Skip to content
The UK's only independent think tank devoted to higher education.

Manifesto idea #4: Professor Anna Vignoles (@AnnaVignoles)

  • 14 May 2018
  • By Anna Vignoles

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 ParticipationIt 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.


  1. Steve McArdle says:

    Currently some applicants receive a great deal of advice and application support from their schools. Disadvantaged students typically receive less from their schools and colleges. Moving the application process to after the results are published will widen this gap. Removing other elements of the current admissions process such as personal statements and interviews might help to soften the impact so that the only significant increase in disadvantage it creates will be in access to advice.

    There is the further risk that PQA becomes a grade only based process, with or without a contextual multiplier.

    I have not seen anywhere that the university year will be starting later to fit all this in. Given what we already know about the higher attrition rate of applicants placed through Clearing (there’s a pilot data set) we would want to avoid hasty decision making.

  2. Samantha Ahern says:

    I would also like to see the broadening of ‘acceptable’ qualifications, BTECs should be consider in addtition to A Levels and the IB for all of our HEIs.

    With the right support all students who demonstrate an aptitude for a subject or an ability to learn should be able to achieve, at any institution.

    I myself completed a BTEC ONC studying 10hrs a week at my local FE college whilst working 36hrs a week in a factory. I did as well as, if not better in some cases on my BSc(Hons) than some of my cohort who had studied A levels.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *