Fair admission to universities in England: improving policy & practice

This project is exploring the policies and practices which govern admission to highly selective degree programmes in England.  

Previous studies have tended to focus on the characteristics and behaviours of prospective students, and have been primarily quantitative in nature or have involved interviews on a relatively small scale.

The researchers will analyse policy documents, and conduct in-depth interviews with staff involved in admissions policy-making and undergraduate selection in 20 universities to;

  • Identify the principles underpinning admissions policies
  • Explore how applications are judged against objective and subjective selection criteria in practice
  • Identify how fairness is conceived and operationalised, and the subsequent consequences this has for the admission of applicants from under-represented groups

The research team will draw on its links with key stakeholders, in particular, Universities UK and the Social Mobility Commission, to maximise the impact of the project findings, translating these into clear recommendations designed to help universities develop fairer and more transparent admissions policies and practices.

Most previous studies have focused on the characteristics and behaviours of prospective students and have been primarily quantitative in nature or involved small scale interviews, rather than analysing admissions policies and practices within universities.

This project will fill a significant gap in the evidence base surrounding fair admission to universities, in the context of concerns around the possible influence of unconscious bias and a growing appetite across the higher education sector to make admissions fairer through the use of contextualised admissions policies.

Project Details



Dr Vikki Boliver, Durham University

Dr Mandy Powell, Durham University

Grant amount and duration


June 2017 - March 2020