UK universities are increasingly being called upon to reduce academic entry requirements for disadvantaged applicants as a vital means of promoting fairer access to higher education. This contextualised approach to admissions recognises that the school attainment of disadvantaged learners does not necessarily do justice to their academic potential, and that standard entry requirements typically exceed the minimum needed to succeed at degree level.
In this seminar, Professor Vikki Boliver lays out the ethical case for reducing entry requirements for disadvantaged learners, arguing that fairness is best conceptualised in terms of distributive rather than procedural justice. Drawing on the findings of research projects funded by the ESRC and the Scottish Funding Council, she shows that entry requirements could be reduced significantly for disadvantaged learners without ‘setting them up to fail’, but that universities are often conflicted about reducing entry requirements given the prestige attached to admitting only high achievers who can be expected to succeed at university as a matter of course.
Professor Boliver will also discuss the scope for radical reductions in entry requirements, in conjunction with more active support for students’ learning whilst at university. Finally, she argues that contextualised admissions policies must be targeted accurately if they are to be effective, which means using administratively verified individual-level measures of contextual disadvantage, rather than area level measures such as the POLAR measure of low HE participation areas.