The universities of Glasgow, Aberdeen and Edinburgh have published two sets of entry requirements to increase the proportion of incoming students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Edinburgh University law applicants will only need ABBBB while the typical offer is AAAAA. For those applying to study Medicine, the grade boundary has been lowered to AAABB from AAAAB.
The “Working to Widen Access” initiative has resulted in contextualised admissions being extended to all 19 higher education institutions represented by Universities Scotland.
Figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) show that the proportion of entrants from disadvantaged backgrounds was 15% earlier this year. The Scottish government has set a target for this to rise to 16% by 2021, and to 20% by 2030.
A spokesman for Edinburgh said: “Our contextualised admissions process allows us to make offers to Widening Participation applicants, who meet the minimum academic requirements, using our Access Threshold – which takes into account a range of factors other than academic qualifications.”
In 2016, the University of Bristol also lowered entry requirements for those from disadvantaged backgrounds by up to two grades, stating that “contextual offer students achieve above average academically.”
Other higher education institutions such as University College London and the universities of Warwick and Birmingham have also implemented similar policies, but have not published two official sets of entry requirements for courses.
Warwick has outlined that applicants who have spent time in local authority care, lived in a neighbourhood where comparatively less students proceed to higher education, or attended schools where students perform below the national average or are provided free school meals qualify to be considered for a contextual offer.
On the notion of contextual offers and lowering grade boundaries, a survey commissioned by MyTutor found that 63% of respondents think that lower entry grades for disadvantaged students could be perceived as patronising.
58% suggested that such a move could be counterproductive, as the students targeted are disproportionately at risk of dropping out.
In contrast, Edinburgh’s Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Peter Mathieson disagreed with concerns that standards will be eroded, arguing that “potentially over-looked students are being lifted up”.
Sharing a similar view, Universities Scotland Director Alastair Sim said: “This is not about ticking boxes for universities – it’s about giving people chances they have worked very hard to earn, often with the odds stacked against them, with the confidence to know they have as much potential to get as good a degree as their peers.”
Students at Warwick shared their opinion on the new move by Scotland’s universities. A fourth-year Law student commented: “Already telling them that they are expected to achieve lower grades – it’s undermining their ability. But at same time, you have to consider the fact that people from deprived areas don’t have the same opportunities as others and they also have to deal with a lot besides education.”