Student body divided on contextual offers – HEPI survey

47% of students back lower grade offers for disadvantaged students, but a similar number disagree

The student body is divided on whether applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds should receive lower grade offers, according to a survey by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI).

The survey of 1,000 full-time undergraduates asked students their opinions on contextual and lower grade offers.

Forty-seven per-cent backed lower grade offers for students from disadvantaged areas, but a similar proportion (45%) did not.

There is still considerable work to be done on winning over hearts and minds – Nick Hillman, director of HEPI

While lower grade offers proved divisive, there was broad support for the principle of contextual offers.

Three-quarters of students agreed it is harder to achieve good exam results if you grow up in a disadvantaged area and believe higher education admissions should take this into account.

The survey was in response to the Office for Students’ (OfS) complaints of “minimal research on students’ views of contextual offers”.

Nick Hillman, director of HEPI, said the survey results mean “there is still considerable work to be done on winning over hearts and minds”.

Students at Russell Group universities were more likely to agree with contextual and lower grade offers. 81% said it was harder for disadvantaged students to achieve good grades, and 57% believed in lowering grade offers.

Hugo Dale-Harris, HEPI’s policy officer, said it was “striking that students at the most selective universities are most supportive”.

“We might have expected students, who are typically from more advantaged backgrounds, to be more resistant to contextual offers,” Dale-Harris said.


Other key findings:

  • 54% think students admitted with lower grades would keep up with the course requirements, but 38% disagreed
  • Two-thirds of students do not know if their own university makes contextual grade offers
  • 28% of students agreed contextual admissions would make it “harder for students like me” to get into university

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the OfS, said: “Significant changes are needed to ensure that the admissions process looks beyond grades to identify merit, recognising the potential of talented candidates from underrepresented backgrounds who have so much to offer to their fellow students, university community and wider society.

“It is positive to see that students broadly support universities taking applicants’ background into account when making offers – even when they will not themselves personally benefit from this practice – and don’t believe that those who receive these kinds of contextual offers will do worse.

“The barriers for disadvantaged students don’t simply disappear when they arrive on campus. But where they are supported effectively, the evidence shows that they do succeed.”


Read more: UUK launches major review of offer making


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