However, the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service argued that the apparent racial bias in admissions to Russell Group universities is not as strong as was indicated in the results of a recent study by Durham University researchers.
Ucas undertook its own analysis of admissions after the Durham research paper, presented at a Higher Education Academy conference in March, said that black and Asian students were less likely to be accepted than similarly qualified white candidates.
The admissions process was “far from fair”, claimed Vikki Boliver, lecturer in sociology and social policy at Durham’s School of Applied Social Sciences, who examined around 49,000 applications made between 1996 and 2006.
Ucas’ study examined 160,000 applications made in 2012 to Russell Group institutions by 18-year-olds who were predicted to obtain three or more high grades at A level.
It found that the chances of getting an offer did indeed differ according to ethnic background, but discovered that the “large majority” of this difference was caused by ethnic minority students applying to more competitive courses, such as medicine or dentistry, or applying with weaker predicted grades than white students.
Once these factors were taken into account, Ucas calculated that the “fair” offer rate for ethnic minority applicants would have been 60 per cent - just two percentage points off the actual 58 per cent offer rate made that year.
The offer rate for applications from white students was 76 per cent, although this reflected their subject choice and higher predicted grades.
“No one should be put off applying by these differences, which are equivalent to much less than a single A-level grade out of a set of three,” said Mark Corver, head of analysis and research at Ucas.”But even these small differences warrant some further investigation,” he added.
Dr Corver welcomed the research by Durham but said he believed that the comparison of overall differences was “misleading” because they could mostly be for genuine academic reasons.
“Admissions professionals will doubtless want to think through their processes again for fairness by ethnic group, but our analysis suggests that it is relatively small differences in offer-making they should be alert to,” he said.