Universities 'should take students' backgrounds into account'

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Nearly three-quarters of students in the UK believe candidates' backgrounds should be considered in university admissions, research suggests.

Almost half back lower grade offers for those from disadvantaged areas, the study for the Higher Education Policy Institute (Hepi) found.

And a slightly smaller percentage were against this, the survey suggested.

Some 73% of the 1,000 undergraduates surveyed said it was harder for pupils from poorer areas to get good grades.

Universities sometimes try to compensate for this by offering promising pupils from poorer backgrounds easier entry routes into university.

These are known as contextual offers and have in the past caused controversy and accusations of "dumbing down".


Overall, 47% of students backed lower grade offers for those from disadvantaged backgrounds, while 45% opposed the idea.

But a higher proportion of those studying at the most selective universities, some 57%, supported lower grade offers for disadvantaged candidates.

Hepi policy officer and report author, Hugo Dale-Harris, said: "We might have expected students, who are typically from more advantaged backgrounds, to be more resistant to contextual offers.

"But these results demonstrate for the first time that most students recognise educational inequalities and want universities to address them."

He added: "Contextual offers are the most promising tool universities have for picking students with the most academic potential regardless of background.

"It is encouraging to see most students recognise educational disadvantage makes it harder to do well and want university admissions to recognise the huge potential of those who achieve against the odds.

"It's striking that students at the most selective universities are most supportive, with 57% supporting lower grade offers for applicants who've had to struggle harder."

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