Ucas rejects ‘racial profiling’ claims over fraud investigations

Analysis finds black students significantly more likely to have their applications investigated and cancelled

May 31, 2018
University application form
Source: iStock

Ucas has pledged to work with representatives of ethnic minority groups after an analysis found that black students were significantly more likely to have their applications to UK universities cancelled because of alleged fraud.

A report published by the admissions service on 31 May says that black applicants represented 52 per cent of all UK-domiciled applicants whose applications were “flagged” for potential fraud between 2013 and 2017, despite representing only 9 per cent of the total number of applications.

Black students also represented 53 per cent of the applicants whose applications were ultimately cancelled because of fraud concerns. Between 2013 and 2017, 1,100 applications submitted by black students were curtailed for this reason.

Asian applicants were also over-represented in the sample: they accounted for 16 per cent of cases that were flagged and 18 per cent of applications that were cancelled, despite representing 11 per cent of the total applications. Asian students accounted for 370 cancelled applications.

White students, who made up 73 per cent of all applicants in this period, were involved in 19 per cent of flagged cases, and their tally of 340 cancelled applications equated to 16 per cent of the total.

The figures are based on cases investigated by Ucas’ verification team, which uses fraud detection software, including similarity detection for personal statements, and investigates concerns raised by universities or others. The most common cases of fraud include detection of false qualifications and discovery of forged documents.

The analysis was conducted after data released under Freedom of Information rules revealed that one in every 102 black applicants to Ucas in September 2017 was investigated for fraud, compared with one in every 2,146 for white applicants. This triggered accusations of “racial profiling”.

But Ucas said that ethnicity data were not available to any of its screening processes and that universities would not have access to this information either at this stage of the admissions process.

It found that the percentage of applications submitted by black students that were cancelled after being investigated was 41 per cent, compared with 44 per cent for Asian students and 34 per cent for white applicants.

The report also says that Ucas had reviewed all cancelled applications from 2017 and 2018 and found that applications were cancelled for “genuine reasons”.

Ucas said that it would reach out to representative organisations to “strengthen the voices of black, Asian and minority ethnic students in our decision-making and processes”.

Clare Marchant, Ucas’ chief executive, said that she was confident that the organisation was “only cancelling applications where there’s clear evidence of fraud or missing information”.

She added: “There is more work for us to do to ensure that flagging is as robust as it can be across all areas of the verification service. We’ve already made enhancements to our fraud detection service, introduced an additional review of applications prior to cancellation, and ensured all staff involved in verification activities have had up-to-date unconscious bias training.

“We have set out a programme of work to further review verification processes in collaboration with universities and colleges, and we will be inviting organisations that represent black, Asian and minority ethnic groups to work with us to help us take a thorough look at key areas of our business, to improve the experience for all applicants.”

anna.mckie@timeshighereducation.com 

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