Partially filling out Ucas forms 'will nudge poorer students to apply to university'

Auto-filling personal details on online Ucas forms, such as name and date-of-birth, could be a 'simple tweak' that could have a big impact, the government's Behaviourial Insights Team claims

Richard Vaughan

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University application forms should be partially completed to encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to apply for tertiary education, a new study has suggested.

The forms could be “pre-populated” with information already held by the Department for Education, such as their date of birth and address.

“Behavioural science research shows that we are more motivated to complete a task when we have already made some progress, even if this is only perceived progress,” the report says.

The forms should be overhauled to enable poorer pupils to apply for both university and vocational courses at the same time, the research adds.

The recommendations are found in a report by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) and commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, aimed at improving opportunities for people who are classed as “just managing” by the government.

The BIT, which was formally known as the “nudge unit” and based in 10 Downing Street, suggests that “simple tweaks” to government policies could have huge impacts on the life chances of the less well off.

Dr Kizzy Gandy, lead author of the report and senior advisor at BIT, said: “Government policies should help people to have less on their mind, not more. We are optimistic that behavioural science can help government departments to better design policies to help those who are ‘just managing’ in order to prevent and overcome poverty.

“We find that in many cases, simple tweaks to service design can yield disproportionate gains in improving decision-making. For example, simply pre-filling application forms for university can increase the number of low income students continuing to higher education.” 

Last year, David Cameron, then prime minister, called for names to be removed from Ucas forms to remove "unconscious bias" form the application process. 

Providing students with Ucas forms that are half-filled out will give them the extra motivation to fill out the rest of the application, the study says.    

Automated text-messaging services should also be utilised to prompt school leavers with forthcoming deadlines for applications to ensure they do not miss out on potential opportunities.

“We recommend the government work with the University and Colleges Admissions Service to expand its existing (but underutilised) further education application platform so that students can apply to both university and technical education from the same point,” the report states.

“This would also enable school leavers to be defaulted into post-secondary education with the choice to opt-out.”


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Richard Vaughan

Richard has been writing about politics, policy and technology in education for nearly five years after joining TES in 2008. He joined TES from the building press having been a reporter and then later news editor at the Architects’ Journal. Before then he studied at Cardiff University’s school of journalism. Richard can be found tweeting at @richardvaughan1

Find me on Twitter @RichardVaughan1

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