A recent study carried out by the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) has concluded that ethnic minority students are less likely than their white British peers to receive UK university offers. The research utilises UCAS university application data from 2008, spanning 50,000 prospective students who were under 21 years of age and had a minimum of two A-levels or equivalent qualifications.
A staggering 12 minority groups analysed were "significantly" less likely to result in an offer. After taking into account other determinants such as type of school prior attended and social background, the findings were upheld with the exception of mixed white/Asian and Chinese candidates, who did not have a significantly lower chance of getting an offer.
Digging deeper into the data, a number of key comparisons can be made. Pakistani prospective students received 7 fewer offers for every 100 applications versus white British applicants, while black Caribbean and Bangladeshi students received 3 and 5 fewer offers, respectively.
Dr Michael Shiner of LSE's department of social policy who conduced the research said "We know that students from black and minority ethnic groups go to university in good numbers, but our analysis raises concerns about the fairness of the admissions process".
Beyond looking at offer success rates, the study addressed the hypothesis that black and ethnic minority students are less likely to apply to high-status/elite institutions. Nevertheless, after taking into account candidate qualification, socio-economic status and schooling, there was little evidence to suggest that this hypothesis is true. On this note, the findings differ from previous research that had only found offer success disparity in elite, older institutions. Data released by the universities of Oxford and Cambridge showed that British ethnic minorities are significantly less likely than their white British peers to be offered places. Based upon 2013 admissions data, Oxford University offered just 17% of ethnic minority applicants places compared to a figure of 25% for white applicants. Similarly, Cambridge offered 23% to ethnic minorities versus 29% for those classified as white.
A spokesperson for Universities UK, a leading lobby group with over 130 member universities, added "Offer rates are largely explained by [grades] and course popularity, but factors such as subject choice at A-level [and others] are all factors that can play a role".
Director-general of the Russell group, Dr Wendy Piatt, added that Russell group members "work hard to encourage students from a wide range of backgrounds to apply". Dr Shiner hastened to add that the group's response is "disappointing" and "defensive", urging universities to consider the findings in more detail.
Of course, a lot can change in six years. The 2008 data utilised in the study can only offer a limited reflection of the situation today and with UCAS applications in the period to end of June 2014 at 659,030 (4% higher year-on-year), the sample size in the LSE study is proportionally small.