A review of Contextual Admissions – the strategy for widening participation and fair access – revealed that a significant number of students who should have been given offers or places were rejected, ‘in direct contravention’ of the University’s agreed approach.
Cardiff University states that it is ‘Committed to widening participation and fair access and ensuring that all those with the potential to succeed at this University can be considered, irrespective of background.’
The Contextual Admissions policy is one of the strategies introduced by the University in an attempt to mitigate any social and educational disadvantage. It aims to give admissions tutors a better understanding of applicantsí social backgrounds to provide a more complete overview of their potential to succeed at Cardiff University in the context of barriers they may have encountered.
The Contextual Admissions’ implementation review was submitted to the Academic Standards and Quality Committee (ASQC) and revealed the University’s failure. 320 (8.6 per cent) of contextually flagged applicants were not given an offer despite being ‘of suitable calibre’ for one. A further 106 (2.8 per cent) of suitable calibre applicants were rejected after interviews. The paper submitted to ASQC noted that these applicants ‘had the potential to achieve the university’s required grades and should have received an offer’
Despite the high number of examples where the strategy has not been implemented, sources have indicated that it is not a university-wide failure, but a small number of schools that have contradicted the policy.
This was affirmed by a spokesperson for the University, who suggested that ‘Not all Schools have interpreted the system correctly and have used the wrong codes to explain some of their decision making. The University has already gone back to the Schools via the Colleges to ask them to look afresh at all flagged entrants for the coming year to be sure that they are following the procedure correctly and to take appropriate action to ensure no applicant is disadvantaged.’
The approach by the University, to re-look at the coming year’s applicants, will not work in practice, due to a number of reasons.
The UCAS admissions process means that once an applicant has made their choice via the online system, it cannot be amended. Furthermore, one of the elements of the policy is discretionary grades for offers. Had an applicant rejected an offer from Cardiff because of the high grade levels, they are unable to later accept any further offers, even if the University were to lower it after re-evaluating flagged applicants.
Ollie Wannell, VP Education, said that ‘The paper from ASQC says it all, it’s clear that a ‘significant cohort’ who could have been made offers, had the policy been properly applied, have missed out on studying here. Widening Access is designed to offer people from less advantaged backgrounds, poorer and often educationally deprived areas an opportunity to go to university. Itís a shame that so few people from such backgrounds do have access to higher education and itís a tragedy that even fewer have access to Cardiff University due to this administrative cock up.’