Personal statements ‘favour the most advantaged students,’ says universities minister

UCAS is looking to reform personal statements used for applications to university

Speaking at a UCAS event yesterday, universities minister Michelle Donelan described how personal statements give some students an advantage over others when applying to university.

“I have always felt that personal statements in their current form favour the most advantaged students,” Donelan said.

UCAS has confirmed that it will be reforming the personal statement system to help level the playing field for prospective students.

During her speech, Donelan discussed the government’s plans for higher education with a specific focus on transparency and access.

She reiterated her desire to clamp down on courses with high drop-out rates as well as those that perform poorly in terms getting students into grad jobs.

As part of a new “Teaching Excellence Framework,” university courses will be labelled gold, silver or bronze depending on how well they perform in terms of graduate outcomes. Those not hitting minimum standards will be flagged as “requiring improvement”.

In an interview with The Tab, Donelan said: “I want every student to have confidence that no matter which university they go to, they know that that minimum quality bar has been reached.”

She added that if universities don’t meet these minimum standards they could be hit with fines of up to half a million pounds and may not be able to charge the full amount of tuition fees.

The minister also urged universities to be transparent when it comes to advertising. “I am asking that all adverts in next year’s admissions cycle – whether they are online, on a billboard or in a prospectus – take the simple, easy step of providing comparable data on the percentage of students who have completed that course, and the percentage of them who have gone into either professional employment or further advanced study,” Donelan told the UCAS event.

The minister also used the opportunity to reiterate her concerns surrounding universities’ use of Non-Disclosure Agreements.

30 universities have recently signed up to a pledge run by Can’t Buy My Silence, committing them to stop using NDAs to silence victims of sexual violence, harassment or bullying.

“It is immoral that we have universities out there that have been using NDAs in these kind of circumstances around sexual harassment, sexual violence and bullying.

“It’s not right. It’s time that we called it out and as a sector come forward and say, no we’re not going to have this across the board in higher education,” Donelan told The Tab.

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