The University of Birmingham has embraced widening participation and fair access since its foundation and is committed to ensuring that students from all backgrounds have the opportunity to study with us. Three quarters of our UK undergraduate first-degree students are from state schools, one third are first generation students, and one fifth are from disadvantaged backgrounds (Polar Quintiles 1 and 2). Our diversity is a source of strength, and it underpins the exchange of ideas, innovation, and debate, which is at the heart of our academic mission. We have a long and successful track record in pioneering access for students from all backgrounds, and we are continuing that ambition through our Access and Participation Plan.
We are the only University to have opened a secondary school. Its distinctive ‘nodal admissions’ policy is designed to reflect the diversity of the city of Birmingham, and has led to the school being one of most diverse in Birmingham. 36% of the Key Stage 3 intake qualify for Pupil Premium Funding (above national and West Midlands averages), whilst 14.6% of pupils were eligible for free school meals and 17.3% of the intake had English as an additional language. 80% (112 students) of the school’s 2017/18 A-level group gained places at universities, with 43% of these students progressing to Russell Group institutions.
Our access programmes are collectively known as Pathways to Birmingham, which includes our flagship Access to Birmingham programme. We were one of the first universities to use contextual offers, with up to two grade reductions for those who had demonstrated the potential to succeed but not reached the standard entry tariff. Pathways to Birmingham also includes a number of other schemes to support access to Birmingham, including Routes to the Professions, Realising Opportunities, and Academic Enrichment programmes, as well as the National Summer School. Further detail about the measures and support we have in place to support increased access can be found in our Access and Participation Plan.
The transparency data in the table above indicate that offer rates to Black and Asian students are lower than those to White students, and that offer rates to students from disadvantaged backgrounds (IMD1) are lower than offers to those from more advantaged backgrounds (IMD5). It is important to set these data in context, recognising that many of the issues are rooted in prior attainment at secondary education level.
90% of White applicants to the University of Birmingham are predicted to achieve grades ABB or better at A-level (our typical offer), compared to 82% of Asian applicants and 77% of Black applicants. Applicants from Black and Asian backgrounds are therefore more likely to apply with predicted grades that do not meet our typical offer criteria. This results in offer rates for these groups being lower. Our own analysis shows that when prior/predicted attainment is taken into account, our offer rates are broadly equal across the different ethnicity groups. It is important to note that the UCAS process means that the University does not know an applicant’s ethnic background when making decisions on applications.
In relation to actual attainment at A-level, 61% of White applicants go on to achieve ABB or better, compared to 35% of Black applicants and 48% of Asian applicants. As a result, the number of offers accepted is lower for these groups.
A similar picture emerges when looking at measures of disadvantage. 79% of applicants to the University of Birmingham in Polar 4 Quintile 1 (which is broadly equivalent to IMD1) are predicted to achieve ABB or better, whereas 92% of applicants from Q5 are predicted to achieve these grades.
In relation to actual attainment, 44% of quintile 1 applicants go on to achieve ABB or better, compared to 65% of quintile 5 applicants. As a result, the number of offers accepted is lower for applicants from lower participation areas.
These issues are consistent with the national picture and they point to a complex, national challenge at schools, with many of the factors being outside of the University’s control, notably prior attainment. The University is committed to playing its part in addressing these issues and we have a range of actions in place in response, as set out above. We are also working with partners across the higher education sector to address these challenges and support increased access to higher education. One of the strategic aims outlined in our Access and Participation Plan is focussed specifically on collaborative initiatives to support improving prior attainment and subsequent progression to university-level study.