Student religion sparks data row

January 26, 1996

Bob Cooper, chairman of the Fair Employment Commission, has criticised the failure of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service to agree to monitor the religion of applicants from Northern Ireland.

The UCAS board decided earlier this month to defer consideration of the proposal, probably until December, even though it was supported by the commission, the Northern Ireland Department of Education and vice chancellors.

Northern Ireland policy makers rely on periodic surveys to get a proper picture of the participation and subsequent careers of the two main religious groupings.

Even if local universities carried out their own surveys and got a full response, entrants to British universities would still be missing.

"UCAS has already accepted that it is right to monitor race, and the same arguments apply to religion. It is an absurd anomaly that Northern Ireland candidates are asked to declare their ethnic origin but not their religion. I hope UCAS will get rid of this anomaly as soon as possible," Mr Cooper said.

A spokesman for UCAS said that the main aim of the proposal seemed to be to monitor subsequent entry of graduates into employment rather than admissions to higher education. "The role of UCAS is to facilitate entry to higher education so obviously we need to consider this further and consult with the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals and Standing Conference of Principals," he said.

The data would also only relate to a small part of the higher education admissions. "As well as that candidates might object to giving this information," he added.

Bob Cormack, pro vice chancellor at Queen's, said a question on the form. "Following recent controversies over the National Anthem and the composition of Queen's, it is particularly important to us to have good strong data on religion."

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