Concern has emerged that entrance exams designed to help prestigious universities choose between thousands of A-level candidates with identical grades may be deterring students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The University of East Anglia has pulled out of the LNAT Consortium, the body that runs the national admissions test for law, after local schools said that students were being put off.
"We are in a rural community and the only university for 60 miles around," said Gareth Thomas, the new head of UEA Law School. "It is very important to us that local students feel we are accessible and it may have been difficult for some students to actually get to the centres to sit the exams. Local schools were very clear that it was acting as a deterrent, particularly for less well-off students."
UEA, which also raised its standard A-level offer, this year saw a 10 per cent drop in the number of applications on top of a similar fall last year. But Mr Thomas insisted that the school had no difficulty filling places.
Manchester Metropolitan University, the only post-92 institution to introduce the test, also saw the number of applications fall by a third after bringing in the LNAT last year. Linda Delaney, acting head of MMU's Law School, said: "We are monitoring this carefully and are going to stick with the LNAT for at least another year. While applications did fall we still had no trouble filling our courses."
Nicky Padfield, chair of the LNAT Consortium and a senior lecturer in law at Cambridge University, said that there was no national evidence that the LNAT was damaging participation. "The LNAT Consortium is committed to widening participation and sees the LNAT as an aid to identifying untapped academic potential," she said.
The consortium is evaluating the performance of the first cohort to be admitted using the LNAT and will compare their first year exam results with their LNAT performance.