Six in 10 UK applicants fear missing out on first-choice campus

Working-class pupils particularly fearful, finds survey, with universities urged to give ‘additional leniency’ on admissions

August 4, 2022
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UK university admissions staff have been urged to consider the continued effects of pandemic disruption on applicants who narrowly miss their offer grades. 

The appeal from social mobility charity the Sutton Trust comes after its July survey of just over 400 university applicants found a rise in those worried about getting a place at their first-choice university, with fears particularly high among those from working-class families. 

The proportion of applicants worried about getting in has risen 13 percentage points compared to last year, with 60 per cent now giving this as a concern, alongside smaller rises for fears about grades and being ready to start in autumn. 

At 71 per cent, the share of those from working-class backgrounds who fear missing out on their first choice was 13 percentage points higher than their middle-class peers, the survey found. 

In a separate survey, the trust found almost half of teachers involved with exams this year did not think mitigations had gone far enough to account for pandemic disruption, with 72 per cent of teachers expecting their attainment gap to widen. 

It said universities “should look to give additional leniency” to those who faced the most challenging circumstances, “especially” those from poorer backgrounds and “even if they have just missed out on their offer grades”. 

“As we approach results day and a more competitive university admissions cycle than ever, we must make sure that poorer youngsters have a fair chance to succeed,” said James Turner, the trust’s chief executive. 

“The impacts of the pandemic on education are far from over – and the consequences are still being felt among young people and their teachers.” 

The charity’s call comes as official statistics from last year’s admissions show longstanding gaps in university access between poorer pupils and their wealthier peers remain. 

Widening participation rose up the political agenda in the last week, as Liz Truss, the frontrunner to be the next UK prime minister, said she wanted high-achieving A-level pupils to automatically get an Oxbridge interview

That narrowly focused approach was branded “disheartening” by Diana Beech, chief executive of London Higher and a former adviser to three universities ministers, who said it took “no regard for logistics or legalities”. 

A 2021 study by the trust found that modern universities with the least selective intakes perform best on contributions to social mobility. 

The trust warned that this year’s A-level results day will be “particularly challenging”, with many applicants likely to be forced to switch plans. 

Universities must spot any pandemic learning gaps early in the first term and provide academic help if necessary, with gaps likely to vary between subjects, it said.

That 56 per cent of applicants surveyed are worried about starting university in the autumn means staff should make sure well-being services are available for those who have missed out on months of classroom socialising, the trust added.

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