Ethnic minority students receive fewer university offers

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Students from black or ethnic minority backgrounds are less likely to receive conditional offers from universities than comparable white British applicants, a recent report has revealed.

The research was conducted by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) and revisits the contested issue of ethnic minority access to higher education.

Candidates from black and minority ethnic groups go to university in good numbers, but students from some minority groups tend to be concentrated in less prestigious institutions. Access to high status universities is important for several reasons, not least because it is likely to affect young people’s subsequent destinations and their ability to access elite professions.

However, the LSE’s research showed that applicants from non-mixed race minority groups were significantly less likely to be offered a university place at any university, whether high status, lower ranking or somewhere in between – even after taking into account academic attainment, family social class background, sex and the type of school attended.

So who loses out?
On average, Pakistani candidates receive seven fewer offers for every 100 applications than equivalent white British applicants. Bangladeshi and black African candidates receive five fewer.

Applicants from other groups including Indian, Black Caribbean and Chinese were also less likely to receive offers than white British candidates.

The researchers found that Chinese candidates seemed just as likely to receive a conditional offer as white British candidates before controlling for academic factors, but were less likely to do so when these factors were taken into account. This suggests that Chinese students’ high levels of attainment mask their reduced offer rates.

The LSE's key finding is that the ethnic differences in offer rates could not be fully explained by differences in academic attainment or patterns of application.The researchers therefore concluded that it is ‘plausible’ that the differences between ethnicities could be down to direct racial discrimination by universities.

In response to the research, Labour MP David Lammy, who is investigating the under-representation of British ethnic minority students in higher education, says universities can't continue to be "so unreflective of wider society".

He added: "This research raises yet more questions about the diversity of our universities and the processes that determine who is given the opportunity to attend them."

What should be done?
Professor Tariq Modood, one of the report's authors, has some ideas as to how to fix this. He said: “Young people from lower social class backgrounds and some ethnic minority groups are less likely to attend schools that are geared towards getting pupils into higher education or to come from families that are familiar with the application process. Having access to good advice from teachers to help students choose the right combination of A-levels and write a good personal statement can have a massive impact.

He added: “We need universities to do more work with schools to ensure that the process is fair to all.”

However, Dr Wendy Piatt, director-general of the prestigious Russell group of research-intensive universities, said her members already "work very hard to encourage students from a wide range of backgrounds to apply".

She added: "There are other factors aside from academic achievement, including the number of A-level options offered to students at some schools, that affect the chances of students from black and minority ethnic groups getting on to their preferred course. We also know that some groups of students are more likely to apply for the most oversubscribed courses."

Co-author of the LSE's report Dr Michael Shiner criticised this response, branding it "disappointing" and "defensive", and called for universities to take a deeper look into their findings. The National Union of Students (NUS) has also called on universities to make changes to their admissions processes and procedures.

You can read the full report here.

Image: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images