The higher education regulator will ask universities to explain in detail how they define “disadvantaged students” in admissions, The Telegraph reports.
The Office for Students will launch a consultation next week on new requirements asking universities to explain the measures they use to give more offers to students from poorer backgrounds in their “access and participation” plans.
John Blake, the director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said there was the need for a “conversation” with the sector about the right “measures and metrics” for deciding whether someone from a certain group was disadvantaged.
He said he hoped that the changes proposed in the consultation would allow for a more “nuanced way” of thinking about admissions. Speaking at a Labour Party Conference fringe event hosted by the Higher Education Policy Institute, he also admitted that the use of postcode areas could not solve the challenge of fair admissions on its own.
It comes as private schools have raised concerns about their pupils being discriminated against in university admissions.
Mr Blake said that universities lowering grade requirements for “disadvantaged” pupils was unfair on wealthier pupils with higher grades.
He said: “Fundamentally, it breaks the deal that aspirational middle class parents feel they’ve made with the Government – that they pay their taxes, send their children to school, and they sort of expect them to have a fair shake at university, including the highly selective ones.”
He said contextual admissions “are an evil because they make more complicated the admissions system, because they create genuine issues of fairness and… those students who have gone through the school sector and got the grades they thought would give them access, but find themselves losing out to others who may have achieved lower grades.”
However, he said they are “necessary because they are in part about correcting deficiencies in the equality that we offer in younger years.”