Questions raised about universities' admission policies

According to the Sunday Times, "Scotland's elite universities have overhauled their admissions procedures in an attempt to socially engineer their intake by favouring students with lower exam grades if they come from poor families."

The Sunday Times reports: "The policies show attempts at positive discrimination in favour of those from deprived backgrounds as universities try to curb the domination of higher education by the best-performing state and independent schools.

Files obtained by The Sunday Times under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Edinburgh has operated a points system since 2004, rewarding applicants from state comprehensives with poor academic records and those who are the first in their family to attend university.

St Andrews, Scotland’s oldest university, instructs admissions officers to give “sensitive” treatment to pupils from around 120 poorly performing state schools.

Cambridge and some departments at Bristol also use statistical models to favour pupils from less successful schools, while Liverpool and Manchester have signalled they will move in that direction. The policies are a reaction to government pressure to change the social profile of higher education.

Last year Universities Scotland (US), the body representing HE institutions north of the border, admitted that in popular subjects, where demand outstripped the number of places available, preference was given to pupils from state schools, preferably in deprived areas, even if there were private-school candidates with better grades. However, the body denied that the policy amounted to discrimination.

Critics say the new evidence shows middle-class students are being systematically discriminated against under university admissions policies."

Scots universities skew policy to aid poor: Admissions are biased towards students from deprived backgrounds (Sunday Times, 25 May 2008)