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Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Thornton

Huddersfield trials 'name-blind' UCAS application process

Huddersfield is the only North-East university taking part in pilot scheme to eliminate ethnic bias in university admissions

Posted by Hannah Oakman | September 16, 2016 | People, policy, politics

As part of a mission to ensure complete fairness in the admissions process – so that no ethnic group misses out on educational opportunities – the University of Huddersfield will join a group of four English institutions taking part in a pioneering ‘name-blind’ project.

For undisclosed courses starting in 2017, the names of applicants will be masked out while it is decided whether to offer the applicant a place. The aim is to discover whether information about a would-be student’s ethnic background plays an unconscious part in the decision-making process.

Huddersfield is joined by the universities of Exeter, Liverpool and Winchester in the name-blind project, which is co-ordinated by UCAS, the UK’s shared admissions service, in tandem with the independent campaigning organisation Supporting Professionalism in Admissions.

The four universities volunteered for the name-blind experiment, in response to a call made by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. The Vice-Chancellor of the University of Huddersfield, Professor Bob Cryan, is a member of the UCAS board and was keen for his institution to take part.

University of Huddersfield chiefs are confident that its admissions process is already fair and transparent, and that it selects applicants purely on the basis of talent and the ability to benefit from courses, according to Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Tim Thornton.

“We have one of the most open cultures in UK Higher Education, with a very large ‘widening participation’ cohort who go on to great academic and career success,” he continued.

“Our participation in the name-blind trial in practice builds on existing practice at the University which has been developed over many years, and reflects our determination to be at the cutting-edge when it comes to fair and effective admissions policies.”

Unconscious bias

UCAS has published a new report that investigates the issue of unconscious bias in the university admissions process.  It confirms that “universities and colleges make significant efforts to ensure their admissions policies are fair and transparent and give all applicants who can demonstrate they have the potential an equal opportunity to secure a place, regardless of their backgrounds, sex or ethnicity”.

The new report is based on a survey of 120 universities and colleges, focus groups, and discussions with technology providers and with stakeholders in the UK and overseas. It provides statistical data, analyses the technical challenges of masking the names of applicants, and concludes with a sequence of recommendations.

Helen Thorne, UCAS’ Director of External Relations, said: “Managing university admissions is a complex business. Universities use different technology systems and many use a number of different admissions processes for individual subjects.

“Admissions professionals are concerned that if UCAS were to mask names centrally this could affect their ability to maintain relationships with students and undermine efforts to widen participation.

“The projects being undertaken in 2017 will enable universities to evaluate the effectiveness of a name-blind approach and how it could complement existing approaches used to ensure that admissions are fair for all.”

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