Contextual offers from elite universities too conservative, says OfS

The watchdog says ‘radical change’ is needed to address access at UK universities, particularly HEIs with high entry standards

The use of university contextual offers has been too conservative, says the Office for Students (OfS).

The report by the OfS says universities must do more to affect a “generational shift”.

In its report on fair access, the regulator said: “The implementation of contextual admissions does not go far enough.

“Research has shown that lowering advertised grades at high-tariff providers to BCC, for example, would broaden the pool of available applicants without a marked fall in academic standards.”

At present, students from less advantaged neighbourhoods are nearly six times less likely to go to elite university than their more affluent peers.

The watchdog criticized universities saying, “admission processes could also be made less obstructive and more transparent for disadvantaged students”.

Alongside improving contextual offers, OfS recommends “providers work with schools to shift expectations and improve attainment, establish sophisticated admissions systems that use different ways to identify potential, and develop more flexible and varied routes into higher education”.

Sir Michael Barber, chair of the OfS, said: “Fair access is often caricatured as a zero-sum game: poorer kids denying places to richer kids with better A levels. But to see it in those terms is to miss the point. We are wasting talent, denying opportunity and hurting our economy by not making the most of our greatest asset: our people.

“A young person from a council estate who gets decent A levels has often had to work a lot harder than the young person from a better off neighbourhood who gets a few grades more. That’s why it is right – as this Insight brief highlights – that contextual admissions are now an increasing part of the picture.”

The report noted that universities that recruit the highest-achieving students may be put-off from offering lower contextual offers because of a “culture of pursuing students with the highest grades to demonstrate global and national standing”.


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