Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA) report

10 December 2008

Commenting on the report published today by the Supporting Professionalism in Admissions (SPA) group, Director General of the Russell Group, Dr Wendy Piatt, said:

“We are pleased that SPA recognises the great strides that Russell Group universities have made in making our admissions procedures as fair, accurate and transparent as possible. Our efforts to make information about our admissions policies as engaging and accessible as possible have also been acknowledged in this report. We also welcome the findings that Russell Group universities are most likely to have joined-up widening participation and admissions projects to target under-represented groups in higher education.

“One of the key recommendations from the Schwartz Review was that potential may not always be reflected in examination results and universities need a broader assessment of a candidate’s achievements. Our institutions are constantly seeking to develop the most effective ways of identifying real potential. A-level qualifications (or their equivalent) are a key source of information about academic ability but we do not just rely on exam grades. Russell Group universities take a range of factors and information into account (‘contextual information’) to ensure that we can identify the candidates with the most potential to excel on our courses - whatever their social or educational background. The vast majority of Russell Group universities, for example, use personal statements and references when assessing candidates. Some departments also interview candidates or ask them to sit additional tests particularly for the most competitive courses to give the applicant a further opportunity to demonstrate their strengths or a real interest in the subject. Others take into account any particular barriers the candidate may have faced during their education such as spending time in care. The candidate's academic success is therefore considered in a broader context. It is extremely challenging to choose between the large number of strong candidates who apply to our universities, but admissions tutors are skilled at reviewing a range of factors in order to identify real talent and potential.

"However, admissions tutors cannot admit students who do not apply so we would encourage all potential students to think carefully about the benefits of going to university and the best course and university for them.”

Notes to Editors

  1. “Fair admissions to higher education -a review of the implementation of the Schwartz Report principles three years on” is available from here:
  2. The Schwartz Review was published in 2004, which set out a number of key principles on which a fair university admissions system should be based.
  3. SPA’s second report on Research Findings states: “Institutions in the Russell Group were most likely to regularly: develop projects with the widening participation team; share admissions data with the widening participation team; take part in outreach work; target under-represented groups and target post-application” (Table 15b);  Fair admissions to higher education a review of the implementation of the Schwartz Report principles three years on: Report 2: Research Findings, Question 13, page 30

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