ISC criticises HESA tariffs
Figures released today by HESA, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, substantiate ISC research published last month which found that persistent claims of discrimination by universities against independent sector applicants are founded on myth.
The HESA figures demonstrate that the proportion of state sector pupils admitted by universities actually fell from 87.8% in 2002/3 to 87.3% in 2003/4. The proportion of independent sector admissions correspondingly rose. The same pattern emerges at Oxbridge and at Russell Group universities like Imperial College, Warwick, UCL, Edinburgh and Nottingham (see note).
Commenting, ISC General Secretary Jonathan Shephard, said: "All the evidence is that universities are putting their academic reputations first and recruiting the best candidates, regardless of means and regardless of social background. ISC has consistently supported moves by universities to expand the pool of suitably qualified applicants from the maintained sector and many ISC schools are working in partnership with maintained sector colleagues to promote wider access."
Today's figures demonstrate in almost every case a wide gap between the number of applicants that top universities select from the state sector and the HESA ‘benchmark'.
Jonathan Shephard today reiterated ISC's criticisms of these so-called benchmarks: "The way HESA calculate their benchmark figures for the number of state school pupils that universities should be admitting is absurd.
"It is possible for students to reach the 360 point target which the top universities are deemed by HESA to require by achieving, for instance, an A and 3 C grades. Yet this result would not normally qualify an applicant for admission. A Cambridge University study found that while over 55,000 UK students had amassed 360 UCAS points, fewer than 17,000 had actually achieved the standard expected for admission at Cambridge. Compiling the benchmarks in this way has led to massive increases in the number of state sector pupils assumed to be qualified for entrance to a top university.
"The reality is somewhat different. HESA has admitted this in a review of the benchmark calculations: ‘It is accepted that the tariff does not provide the full range of information which could allow better differentiation between certain types of institution, particularly those that are highly selective.'
"The important benchmarks concern participation by lower socio-economic groups. We want to see more applicants from less privileged backgrounds, both state and independent pupils, going to university. We are pleased that the proportion of successful applications from lower-participation neighbourhoods has risen from 13.9% to 14.6%."
Mr Shephard concluded, "We continue to press for the scrapping of the meaningless state/independent benchmark."
Notes to editors
The proportion of state sector admissions fell at the following universities:
from 57.6% to 56.9% at Cambridge;
from 55.4% to 53.8% at Oxford;
from 62.8% to 59.6% at Imperial College London;
from 61.4% to 59.3% at UCL;
from 77.8% to 76.5% at Warwick;
from 73.8% to 68.6% at Newcastle;
from 72.9% to 78.7% at York;
from 65.7% to 65.3% at Edinburgh;
from 79.9% to 79.6% at Manchester;
from 66.1% to 64.3% at LSE;
from 70.3% to 68.4% at King's College London