Oxbridge, contextual offers and university admissions

Commenting following news items re: Oxbridge contextual offers and admissions, HMC Executive Director, Mike Buchanan, said:

HMC schools are amongst the most academically successful in the UK and across the world. The young women and men attending HMC schools typically move on to leading universities across the world including the most selective universities in the UK and elsewhere.

There is no evidence that there is discrimination against independently educated applicants to selective universities. Our success in helping students gain places at Oxbridge and other highly selective institutions remains high. We have always believed that the Higher Education sector in the UK should have room for all students with the potential to thrive.

As far as Oxbridge is concerned, overall applications have risen and continue to do so. This is partly due to excellent outreach work from both universities. However, the number of state-educated entrants has fallen in this last year, as well as the overall number of independently educated entrants. The  ‘success rate’ of HMC schools remains around one in three, and importantly, we continue to help partners in state schools: in the last year, nearly 1000 bright, state-educated students were provided with assistance by staff in HMC schools to prepare for Oxbridge.

We support the sophisticated, individualised use of contextual admissions to further extend opportunity for pupils of all backgrounds. Those who work in universities admissions know that contextual data is complex. For example, the UCAS ‘multi equality measure’ which attempts to give universities a rounded view of social and educational background, cannot give a sophisticated picture of students in HMC schools, since data available for state students is not available for those educated in our schools. POLAR data, using postcodes, is notoriously unreliable in cities, where ‘poor’ and ‘rich’ areas are often geographically so close as to not distinguish. So, information about our applicants’ individual backgrounds needs to be given manually through UCAS: we do this, as can all schools, on behalf of individuals. It is appreciated and used.

Contextual admissions are nothing new, perfectly reasonable if used on an individual basis, and an important part of admissions. Not all of our students are socially advantaged, and not all state-educated students are disadvantaged. The majority of students from affluent backgrounds are not educated in HMC schools. This is why a sophisticated approach to individual backgrounds is needed.

Universities are independent institutions and their admissions are and should remain a matter for the individual university.