Gap in offer rates between white students and rest at record high

‘Differential offer rates are part of the endemic inequalities we see in higher education’, says expert

May 9, 2024
A large crack in a road
Source: iStock/Matthew de Lange

The gap in university offer rates between white students and those from other ethnic backgrounds is at a record high in the UK, figures suggest.

Recent data from admission service Ucas showed that the offer rate for UK 18-year-old students of white ethnicity was 78.8 per cent in the 2023 cycle – the highest of all ethnic groups.

Applicants describing themselves as being of mixed ethnicity had the second-highest offer rate, at 75.7 per cent, but this gap of 3.1 percentage points was the largest since figures began in 2010.

The gap between white and Asian students was also at a record high (8.9 percentage points), while the gap to black students (7.3 percentage points) was at a seven-year high.

“Differential offer rates are part of the endemic inequalities we see in higher education, with access to information, advice and guidance about the higher education application process being a key factor,” warned Camille Kandiko Howson, associate professor of education at Imperial College London.

The overall national offer rate peaked at 79.7 per cent in 2020, just as it did across all ethnicities in the data.

White students appear to have rebounded the fastest since then, with their offer rate much closer to pre-pandemic levels than for students of other ethnicities.

Dr Kandiko Howson said the long-term impact of the pandemic could be a factor, with under-represented students displaying disproportionate negative effects on their learning and well-being, while racism could be another.

Antony Moss, pro vice-chancellor for education and student experience at London South Bank University, said the growing gap between white students and the rest was largely driven by attainment gaps at GCSE and A level.

“As we know that students from ethnic minority backgrounds will be over-represented in lower income households, this might explain why we are now seeing the gap widening at the offer stage,” he added.

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Graeme Atherton, head of the Centre for Inequality and Levelling Up at the University of West London, said the “flatlining” number of white students entering university would relate strongly to the offer rate.

Recent Ucas figures show that the number of white British students applying to UK undergraduate courses has fallen to the lowest level in 16 years.

“It may be the case that white students with lower grades at A level or post-16 are not applying in the same numbers as the stronger labour market offers them other opportunities,” said Professor Atherton.

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