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 Conor Ryan, formerly Director of Research at the Sutton Trust.
Fairness should be at the heart of the Director of Fair Access and Participation’s agenda. That means making the admissions process fairer and ensuring outreach and access funds are spent effectively. His task would be helped if maintenance grants were restored and if fees changed, so the poorest students pay nothing and the better-off pay back the most.
But it is not just about money. The Sutton Trust’s Admissions in Context research gave the lie to the idea that contextual admissions by lowering grades is patronising and discriminatory. Our analysis showed that one-in-five admissions of non-disadvantaged students were at least two grades below the standard criteria at elite universities. The new Director of Fair Access and Participation should ask universities to do the same for all disadvantaged students with high potential and be upfront about what is required to access a course.
At the same time, he should reopen the debate on post- qualification admissions: our Rules of the Game research showed bright but poor students consistently have their grades underestimated. Without AS-Levels, the time is ripe for change. Finally, he should insist that universities improve evaluation of the £750 million they spend on access and student support so that it is invested effectively.