University of Bristol Admissions Controversy - Context


Widening participation is a Government policy in the United Kingdom which attempts to widen access to higher education by increasing numbers of underrepresented groups including ethnic minorities, disabled people and those from lower income families. Widening participation is a strategic aim of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the body which allocates funding to Universities. The Bristol admissions dispute is one of two policial controversies over widening participation that occurred during the 2000s. In 2000 the Laura Spence Affair involved the rejection of a state school student who applied to study Medicine at Oxford University and resulted in similar debate about widening participation. Bristol University first introduced a widening participation scheme in 1999 after the Dearing Report, a report which gave recommendations to the government on the expansion and funding of the British higher education system. Bristol's policy was in part a result of this report as well as being a principled attempt by the University to attract applications from state schools, something Bristol has traditionally struggled to do.

The aims of the 1999 Participation Strategy were to:

  • Put in place an admissions system to enable admissions tutors to identify and make offers to applicants from underrepresented groups who have the potential to complete our programmes successfully, with the aim of increasing the number of entrants from such groups
  • Ensure that students from underrepresented groups are given the support they need to achieve the learning outcomes and feel comfortable at Bristol, and to encourage integration of students from all backgrounds.

The University's widening participation policy was reviewed in 2001 when a report called The Way Forward set out how the University could meet HEFCE participation targets. Under the access initiative each UCAS application to Bristol was examined centrally before being passed to University Departments. Applications from schools where the average A-level grades were less than CCC were "flagged-up" to alert tutors to disadvantage. Bristol's state intake increased from 49.3% in 1998 to 60% in 2003 under the scheme.

Bristol has been described as "one of the most competitive universities to get into". At the time of the controversy the university had the third highest private school intake (only Oxbridge was higher) with only 57% of students coming from state school backgrounds. This has led some to label it elitist. In 2003 it was reported that the University has 39,000 applicants for its 3,300 undergraduate places each year. In Bristol had 2,000 students were hunting 100 places in history, and 1,500 students of English chasing only 47 places, leading The Guardian to argue that many well qualified students would be disappointed.

Read more about this topic:  University Of Bristol Admissions Controversy

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