UEA has ranked third in the UK for increasing its admission of disadvantaged students between the 2011-12 and 2015-16 academic years, according to a report published by the independent think tank Reform.
While this is an impressive achievement for UEA, it does not reflect the wider trend of declining social mobility in the UK. In 2016, students eligible for free school meals were half as likely to go to university as those who were not. In recent years, universities have been investing more heavily into widening participation in response to this trend.
However, this investment has not always been effective, with percentages of disadvantaged students being admitted to university consistently remaining below benchmarks set by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
The report focused on the 29 most selective universities in the UK (including Oxford, Cambridge, Nottingham and UEA), finding that only 6.5 per-cent of the total student intake came from the 20 per cent most disadvantaged areas. The report goes on to offer solutions to this problem, which would result in wider participation from disadvantaged areas.
While social mobility is affected from the beginning of education, the report focuses on university admissions because: ìaccess to elite universities has become a symbol of differences in opportunity experienced by people with poorer or richer parentsî.
In a move to tackle these underlying inequalities, universities are increasingly adopting ‘decontextualised admissions’, including UEA which has used this type of admission since 2014. This means taking each applicant’s background into consideration during the admissions process.
The report suggests that to widen participation, universities should be made to publish whether or not they use contextualised admissions on their official websites. In future, universities who refuse to use contextualised admissions may even run the risk of being disallowed from charging the maximum tuition fees.