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Fair Access Research: Admissions

Fair Access Research: Admissions

Admissions is one of five themes in the Fair Access Research Project (FAR), BU’s innovative approach to widening participation and breaking down barriers to make higher education more inclusive.

Within this theme we need to explore questions such as:

  • Are university admissions processes fair to all? 
  • Are they transparent? 
  • Can widening participation (WP) students access what they need to help in their decisions about HE?

Within this page, we detail three projects within FAR which have investigated the impact of the admissions process for WP students, with the aims of increasing understanding of the relationship between admissions and widening access.

BU’s widening participation guidance for admissions staff

Students with the real potential to succeed in Higher Education need to have an equal opportunity to come to university, whatever their background or life experience.

Download the guidance in full (pdf 270kb)

Keeping HE Admissions fair

Project summary

In 2016, Dr Vanessa Heaslip, co-principal investigator of the FAR Project, was invited to join a National Expert Think Tank (NETT) to inform and influence topical national debate on fairness and good practice in HE admissions. The group then developed a framework for selecting (or not selecting) to use additional admission assessment as part of a fair admissions process.

The NETT was convened by convened by Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA) to consider how fair admissions can be maintained and enhanced in the current HE landscape, how fair admissions is understood across the sector in the UK, and what this means to individual HE providers.

Dr Heaslip led the working group which explored additional admission assessments used and conducted research to explore schools, colleges and university admission staff perceptions and use of additional admissions assessments.

Visit the SPA Fair Admissions webpage to find out more about this work.

Understanding admissions

Project summary

In consideration of fair admissions and the notion of transparency, we analysed our admissions data exploring application and conversion rates across a number of WP characteristics and undertook a review highlighting existing areas of good practice and any areas which required future work.

Principles of fair admissions advocated by Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA) are those identified in the Schwartz Report which identified that a fair admissions system should:

  1. Be transparent
  2. Enable institutions to select students who are able to complete the course, as judged by their achievements and their potential
  3. Strive to use assessment methods that are reliable and valid
  4. Seek to minimise barriers for applicants
  5. Be professional in every aspect and underpinned by appropriate institutional structures and processes.

This notion of transparency in the admissions process is gaining momentum; the recent white paper Success as a Knowledge Economy (Department for Business and Skills 2016)  advocates the introduction of a ‘transparency’ duty requiring regulated higher education providers to publish data on the backgrounds of their applicants thus shining a light on the admissions process. 

One way of ensuring this transparency review is for institutions to critically analyse their admissions data exploring application and conversion rates across a number of WP characteristics.

Care Leavers Project

This project, arising from the FAR programme, is a collaborative one with many local stakeholders including three Virtual School Heads, exploring the perceptions and aspirations of young people in care considering progressing to further or higher education.

While the 0.7% proportion of total BU students who are care leavers is above the national figure of 0.6% we felt that more could be done within this area. There are national concerns that care leavers remain very disadvantaged with regards to accessing HE (BIS 2014). In 2015, less than a quarter of 19 to 21-year-old care leavers were in further or higher education.

This associated study aimed to explore perceptions and aspirations of young people in care considering progressing to further or higher education. In particular, we were keen to identify where they currently seek advice and guidance, the resources they access and some of the challenges they face in making an informed decision.

This project was a collaborative project between BU and the three virtual school Head teachers in Bournemouth, Poole and Dorset. The study included focus groups and interviews with the key stakeholders (young people in care, care leavers in HE, social workers, virtual school teams, school teachers, foster carers and other key workers).
This provided a rich picture of young people’s ambitions, the breadth of advice and guidance available and the importance of personal relationships in supporting these young people.

How do I perceive myself? Understanding perceptions of disability

This study explored HE students’ perceptions of what disability implies in the context of applying to a UK university and aimed to understand some of the complexities and experiences of disability.  

A review was completed of the admissions and enrolment data for all applicants to BU between academic years 2010-11 to 2014-15, to explore if there were differences in application and enrolment for students from different backgrounds.

The data was analysed according to key widening participation markers including:

  • Whether or not the applicant disclosed a disability
  • Whether or not the applicant came from a low-participation neighbourhood (LPN)
  • Whether or not the applicant was a care leaver.
Read more in the Fair Access Briefing (pdf 180kb)
We were interested to see how students view disability, and what factors influence whether an individual would declare a specific disability on the UCAS application form, or why they would choose not to declare a disability.

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