Memorandum from the Association of University
Teachers (HE 68)
The Association of University Teachers (AUT)
has recently called for a fundamental review of admissions policy
and practice in the interests of improving access to higher education
among under-represented groups.
If a review is to be conducted it would need to address all aspects
of the admissions process, including improving support for admissions
who undertake their job with little or no training or back-up
support. In particular, the association believes that:
the review on admissions should commission
research into current admissions policies and practices across
the higher education sector;
higher education institutions need
to provide admissions tutors with sufficient resources and time
to do the job effectively, and tutors must be positively rewarded
for involvement in admissions work;
higher education institutions should
be encouraged to institute high quality staff development programmes
concerning admissions and widening participation.
1. The Association represents over 40,000
academic and academic-related staff in UK universities, colleges
and research institutes; we have members in both the "old"
and the "new" (post-1992) universities. We welcome the
chance to respond on the topic of access to higher education.
One of the fundamental principles of a civilised society is a
fair and equitable system of higher education. While an equitable
system of higher education is a widely shared goal, the evidence
as it stands highlights a number of significant inequalities in
participation between different socio-economic groups.
There are various structural, individual and institutional reasons
for the under-representation of students from lower socio-economic
families and neighbourhoods. Cultural barriers, the nature of
the qualifications system and financial obstacles, for example,
were all sign-posted in our evidence to a previous Select Committee
Inquiry on Education and Employment.
Universities, including individual admissions tutors, are making
great efforts to improve access to higher education, but the association
recognises that these efforts need to be built on and the sector
must make greater efforts to boost the percentage of state-educated
students applying and gaining places at the more prestigious universities.
This must, of course, be done in partnership with schools. The
primary responsibility for encouraging more applications to our
most prestigious universities rests with the schools; but the
universities must ensure that potential students know that their
applications will be welcomed and treated fairly. The government
must also accept their responsibility to fund access schemes and
relevant staff development and training generously.
2. In recent years, the sector has begun
to accumulate more accurate information about statistical patterns
and "widening participation" performance indicators.
We also possess a greater awareness of "good practice"
in widening access to higher education.
Despite these positive developments, the sector continues to know
very little about the day-to-day conduct of higher education admissions
and selection procedures. This is because undergraduate admissions
procedures are usually devolved to departments and remain the
responsibility of individual tutors. Moreover, there has been
no major study of admissions policy and practice since a Training
Agency survey in the late 1980s.
Although there have been a few small-scale studies since then,
there appears to be little rigorous and systematic data on actual
admissions practices. We, therefore, strongly recommend that the
relevant stakeholders in the sector (DfEE, HEFCE, CVCP) commission
research in this area. As with the earlier Training Agency project,
this could map present patterns over a range of institutions and
courses: scrutinise the justifications for these admissions policies
and practices; and evaluate the potential for widening the participation
3. Despite the absence of contemporary research
a number of broad generalisations can be made about the conditions
in which admissions tutors operate. Admissions work remains undervalued.
It tends to have little status or reward, and frequently operates
within institutional contexts were minimal resources are provided.
Admission tutors also tend to receive little or no formal training
(though the picture varies according to institution and department).
Most of them are trained "on the job" through a combination
of written procedural principles and guidance from a more experienced
colleague. Because they are teachers and researchers in their
own right, they have few incentives to become "specialists"
in the area of selection procedures.
4. The national higher education admissions
context has also become progressively more complex in recent years.
Growing numbers of students now come through routes other than
A level. Developments such as the accreditation of prior experiential
learning (APEL) continue to alter the environment in which application,
selection and progression takes place. Moreover, changes to advanced
level qualifications (curriculum 2000) and the new UCAS tariff
will necessitate a major shift in admissions strategies from 2001.
Within this context, tutor training and staff development programmes
become increasingly important.
5. Access and widening participation in
higher education has generally been neglected as an area for staff
development (especially in relation to admissions).
Consequently, there is very little evidence as to "best practice".
Staff development programmes for academic admissions staff, however,
would need to go beyond the mechanics of admissions, and cover
the main policy issues concerned with access (including equal
Such programmes should also be widely available and if possible
be targeted not only at existing admissions tutors but staff members
as a whole.
Association of University Teachers
17 AUT press release, 6 June 2000: www.aut.org.uk/news/press00/pr0031.htm. Back
These are teachers and researchers who are responsible for admissions
at a departmental or course level. They differ from "admissions
officers" who are the administrative staff in charge of the
institutions' admissions policy. Back
Recent evidence from the Sutton Trust has already been brought
to the attention of the Select Committee. Back
AUT, Access for all? An inquiry into participation in post-16
education of the 1990s, a response to the inquiry by the Select
Committee for Education and Employment London: AUT, 1998. Back
HEFCE,Performance Indicators in Higher Education, Bristol:
HEFCE, 1999. Back
CVCP, From elitism to inclusion: good practice in widening
access to higher education, London: CVCP, 1999. Back
O Fulton, and S Ellwood, S, Admissions to Higher Education:
Policy and Practice, Sheffield, Department of Employment:
The Training Agency, 1989. Back
A Brown, and J Bimrose,"Admissions to higher education:
current practice and future policy", Journal of Access Studies,
Vol 8, 1993, pp 154-169; D Smith, P Scott and C Bargh, "Standard
systems, non-standard students: The impact of consolidation on
access to higher education", Journal of Access Studies,
Vol 10, 1995, pp 120-136. Back
From 2002 A level scores will be supplanted by a new tariff that
will also value other qualifications used for entry to higher
R Imeson, and L Garner, "Staff development, Access and
cross-sector collaboration-an unholy and unworkable alliance for
the 1990s", Journal of Access Studies, 1994, Vol
9, pp 91-107. Back
M Stowell, Equal Opportunities, Access and Admissions: Tensions
and Issues for Institutional Policy, Journal of Access Studies,
Volume 7, 1992, 164-179. Back
Fulton, and Ellwood, op Cit, pp 21. Back