How do you widen participation without discrimination?

October 20, 2006

The Leeds academics who wrote the access report explain their reasoning Admissions processes must be fair to all applicants and transparent.

And herein lies a quandary: how can you widen participation to those who are disadvantaged while ensuring that you do not discriminate against those who demonstrate their potential by conventional means?

Many institutions have established compacts - including special admissions arrangements - that offer alternative entry routes, but these compacts differ considerably and confer different benefits.

Our work aimed to identify and define compacts and provide suggestions for good practice. The report concludes that compacts can do much to widen participation. We spoke to teachers and students in 16-to-19 education who welcomed them but felt that they did not always meet their needs.

Students and teachers alike were often confused by the different types on offer, and some students didn't know of their existence.

Therefore, we have suggested a common definition for compacts and ways in which they can operate fairly. They are about developing a more sensitive and fairer admissions process. The more that is understood about applicants' backgrounds, the better an admissions tutor can judge potential and make offers appropriately.

We are clear that compacts are not about accepting applicants who are weak academically.

It should be a course admissions tutor who decides in each case whether or not a compact scheme offer is merited.

For reasons of equity, our report suggests that it is good practice for all applicants who demonstrate disadvantage (as defined by the institution to which the application is made) should be considered for the possibility of compact scheme offers.

This possibility should not be restricted to applicants who attend particular schools or colleges.

It is important that institutions know what impact their compacts make.

More monitoring is called for so that institutions know more exactly who benefits and how those students who are admitted via compact offers are progressing.

Some institutions are understandably nervous about the legal standing of compacts, and a section in the report is devoted to this subject.

The report will be discussed at a widening-participation conference in Leeds on October 24.

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