Students at further education colleges could be disadvantaged when applying to university because their predicted A-level grades tend to be lower than those they achieve. Independent schools predict higher grades for the same calibre of student.
The finding was made by staff at the University of Birmingham, who analysed some 28,000 applications made to the university for entry to a full-time course in 2000. While their conclusions are preliminary, all admissions tutors at the university have been asked to reflect on the results.
Kevin Whitston, director of widening participation, who conducted the research, said: "There is some cause for concern. When admissions tutors make offers, it is on the basis of predicted grades.
"We think that further education students, at any given level of achievement, may be less likely to get an offer from us than those at independent schools. In some cases, students applying from further education colleges who went on to achieve 28 points at A level have not been made as many offers as a candidate from an independent school who went on to achieve 28 points."
The data could also conceal other factors that could conspire to disadvantage students from low-participation groups. Dr Whitston said:
"Students who study locally put down several courses at one institution and it could appear that this person has not decided what to do. We are not interested in a person who is not focused but it may be that the student has to study locally."