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Durham University

Research & business

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Evaluating the fairness of admissions to UK higher education

A research project of the School of Education.


This project sets out to evaluate the fairness of admission to UK universities in general, and to highly selective degree programmes in particular. Debates about fair access to higher education have tended to focus on the need to address the poorer attainment and aspirations of those from traditionally under-represented groups. Recently, however, policy-makers have begun recognise the need to also scrutinise the fairness of university admissions decisions. Currently there is no conclusive evidence as to whether university admissions decisions are fair in the narrow sense of simply reflecting the previous academic achievements of applicants. In this project we ask whether university applicants are equally likely to be offered university places if they are equally well-qualified, and we explore the extent to which different aspects of prior attainment explain why university applicants from lower social class backgrounds and ethnic minority groups are less likely to be offered university places than their middle class and white peers. We also ask to what extent access to higher education might be made fairer through the use of 'contextual data' to identify students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the potential to do well at university despite not having the grades usually required for admission. We answer these questions using linked data on school pupils, university applicants, and university entrants, which enables us to examine what factors influence whether or not people apply to university and whether or not they are offered a university place. Working with key organisations including the Office for Fair Access, Universities UK, and the Equality Challenge Unit, we will share our findings and recommendations with universities to help them improve the fairness of their admissions policies.


The project is funded by the following grant.

  • Evaluating The Fairness Of Admissions To Uk Higher Education (£20408.80 from )


From the School of Education