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Ucas unclear why black students flagged for fraud

Admissions body says it does not know why black applicants are disproportionately flagged but promises investigation

University applications

Admissions body says it does not know why black applicants are disproportionately flagged but promises investigation

Black students are more likely to have their university applications flagged for potential fraud or errors than any other ethnic group, according to official data.

Figures show that more than half of the applications flagged by Ucas' verification service between 2013 and 2017 were from students from black backgrounds.

Ucas, which published the statistics, said it was unclear why this was the case and it will be working with organisations that represent ethnic minority groups to look at the issue.

The data shows that black applicants made up around 9 per cent of all university applicants over the five years between 2013 and 2017, but they made up 52 per cent of all of those who had applications flagged in this period.

In comparison, white students made up 73 per cent of applicants in this period and accounted for 19 per cent of applications flagged.

Asian students made up 11 per cent of applicants and 16 per cent of those flagged.

In addition, a higher proportion of black students had their applications cancelled once they had been flagged – more than any other ethnic group.

The figures do show that, in general, the total number of applications flagged is small, and that out of around 2.9 million applicants over the past five years, 5,160 had applications flagged.

Ucas says its verification service aims to help to prevent would-be students from gaining an unfair advantage, or gaining a higher education place, through deception.

'No clear reason' for disparities

It uses fraud detection software as well as systems for detecting similarities and duplicates between applications. There is also an alerts process for universities and colleges if they believe an application warrants further investigation.

In each of the systems used, ethnicity and nationality plays no part, and is not used in any decision to flag an application, Ucas said.

It stated that there was no clear reason for the disparities in the numbers of applications flagged.

But the admissions service did say that industry-standard fraud detection software – which is used to screen applications – uses historic data as a reference, and this could potentially play a part in the differences.

Once an application is flagged, Ucas' verification team investigates further, for example checking information with applicants, or investigating potential fraud.

The findings come amid increasing debate about the numbers of black and minority ethnic students going into higher education, and their experiences of studying at universities and colleges.

Clare Marchant, Ucas' chief executive, said: "Ucas uses industry-standard software to screen applications for fraud on behalf of universities and genuine applicants.

"This analysis gives us confidence we are only cancelling applications where there's clear evidence of fraud or missing information.

"However, there is more work for us to do to ensure that flagging is as robust as it can be across all areas of the verification service.

"We've already made enhancements to our fraud detection service, introduced an additional review of applications prior to cancellation, and ensured all staff involved in verification activities have had up-to-date unconscious bias training.

"We have set out a programme of work to further review verification processes in collaboration with universities and colleges, and we will be inviting organisations that represent black, Asian and minority ethnic groups to work with us to help us take a thorough look at key areas of our business, to improve the experience for all applicants."

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