Teachers are being urged to familiarise themselves with contextualised university admissions – which take students' socioeconomic background into account – after new data revealed that poorer students were less likely to be aware of them.
The data also showed that fewer students were taking mathematical science courses at university, with heads warning that the new, harder GCSE maths qualification was responsible for the fall in numbers.
Admissions: Record number of students apply to university
In a report published today, university admissions body Ucas reveals that the disadvantage gap in higher education admissions has narrowed, but it recommends that “teachers and advisers familiarise themselves with the practice of contextualised admissions” to enable less privileged pupils to access university courses.
The report says that around one in six – 17 per cent – of the most disadvantaged applicants received a contextualised offer in 2019. And only 60 per cent of the most disadvantaged students were aware that universities made such offers, compared with 68 per cent of the most advantaged students.
More disadvantaged students going to university
It says: “These responses were collected at the end of the cycle, when many applicants would have been in receipt of these offers. Awareness may have been even lower when it was most needed – at the point of application.”
However, the report adds that the disadvantage gap at higher education has narrowed, with 61 per cent more disadvantaged students attending university than 10 years’ ago.
Nonetheless, the most advantaged students are more than twice as likely than their disadvantaged peers to attend university.
Concerns had been raised that students from poorer backgrounds were less likely to apply to courses with high entry requirements because they were worried they would not get the required grades.
Headteachers have warned that schools are already struggling to cope with funding cuts, and are unable to provide enough support for disadvantaged students in their applications.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: “These statistics show that the equality gap between the number of rich and poor students entering university has narrowed but that it is still far too wide.
“Ucas highlights the fact that many disadvantaged students remain unaware that some universities make contextualised offers, which take into account other information about the background of the student.
“And it recommends that teachers and advisers familiarise themselves with the practice of contextualised admissions so they are able to provide the best advice and support to applicants."
However, Mr Barton added that schools are “struggling to keep the existing plates spinning, let alone adding new ones".
The report also reveals that the number of students taking mathematical sciences had the largest proportional fall in 2019, with 9.9 per cent fewer acceptances than the previous year, the lowest number since 2012. This coincided with the launch of the revised maths A level, which led to 6,000 fewer students taking the subject in the 2019 exam series.
Mr Barton added: “The statistics also show a worrying decline in the number of students taking up mathematical sciences. This is the first full cohort which has taken new, harder GCSE and A-level qualifications in maths.
“The number of entries to A-level maths and further maths declined this summer, and, unsurprisingly, that has now fed through to university take-up. It is hard to escape the conclusion that some students have been put off maths by the difficulty of the new so-called ‘big, fat’ maths GCSE."
Clare Marchant, chief executive of Ucas, said: ‘It’s great news that disadvantaged students are now 61 per cent more likely to enter university than 10 years ago.
"This increase has been driven by the hard work of teachers to raise ambition of their students and increase awareness of contextualised admissions.
"Our survey data shows that awareness of contextual offers is slightly lower amongst most disadvantaged groups than most advantaged and our new UCAS Hub gives all students the opportunity to explore everything in one place, personalised to them."