Harmonica playing could prove as effective as good A-level scores in securing a place at the United Kingdom's most prestigious higher education institutions.
The European Access Network, which is researching how well elite institutions are tackling access to high-demand courses, has found admissions tutors are no longer confining themselves to conventional requirements such as A-level scores.
Maggie Woodrow, EAN executive director, said interim findings from its From Elitism to Inclusion II research study, to be published later this year, showed that elite institutions were "pushing forward the frontiers" in widening access to areas such as law, medicine and creative arts.
One admissions tutor in a creative arts college was interviewing a non-traditional applicant without standard entrance requirements. The applicant secured a place by producing a harmonica and playing the blues. The admissions tutor told the EAN researchers that the applicant's quality was "being able to deliver the unexpected".
The EAN, which this week held its tenth anniversary conference in Glasgow, believes its findings combat the myth that wider access is the preserve of new universities.
Ms Woodrow said: "Instead of just looking at conventional requirements, (admissions tutors) are saying: 'What really makes a good doctor? Who would be a great asset to the legal profession?'" Robert Osborne, of Ulster University and a member of the EAN research team, said: "It is quite clear to us that activity is under way (in traditional universities) to begin to take the widening-access agenda very, very seriously indeed."