‘Lower grade requirements made me work harder’: Uni is being made more accessible for low-income students

We spoke to low-income students about lowering grade boundaries

Universities will be offering lower grade requirements to students from poorer backgrounds due to pressures from the Office for Students, who want to encourage fair access at university.

According to The Times, around 20 per cent of young people from poor backgrounds go to university. By comparison, 46.3 per cent of young people from the richest backgrounds enter higher education.

In order to encourage accessibility for students from poorer backgrounds, the Office for Students have introduced a new policy of "contextual admissions" based on household income. OfS can also block universities from charging their students the full £9,250 in tuition fees if they are not doing enough to widen access.

Chris Millward, director of fair access at OfS, commented: "A-level grades can only be considered to be a robust measure of potential if they are considered alongside the context in which they are achieved."

But what do the students from low-income backgrounds think about the policy? We spoke to Manchester students to find out.

Alex Walter, History and American Studies, UoM

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It’s not about flooding top flight universities with the less intelligent, it’s about balancing equality of opportunity.

Entry grades could be lowered, or secondary means tests could be introduced that would discern who would be successful at a university. It seems more balanced than looking solely at A Levels and GCSEs – for which a person’s school plays a heavy influence. Of course, there are poor people at great schools, but generally, poorer areas have fewer high performing schools.

Lily Brittain, English Literature and Drama, UoM

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I don't necessarily think that lower grade boundaries would make it easier for disadvantaged students as typically getting the grades isn't the problem (although it can be a lot more difficult).

Rather it's the struggle once you're at university, say feeling more isolated because of financial situations and becoming more aware of class divisions etc.

I know Manchester offer a Manchester Access scheme which allows students from lower income families lower grades and therefore less pressure.

I don't think this is entirely useless and does have it's advantages but, if universities want to implement said schemes then they should offer more follow up help, perhaps by giving them options for bursaries.

I know a lot of students from low-income backgrounds who take gap years to save money, or get jobs in their first year. So bursaries could be of more use later on within the degree process.

Emma Lauren Sheils, Law with Politics, UoM

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I actually got into Manchester with lowered grade boundaries through Manchester access programme. In my opinion it actually encouraged me to do better, it made university far more accessible for me, and it made me believe that I could actually get into uni. I think it would work very well for other universities if implemented.

Jessica Wiehler, English Literature and Drama, UoM

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It’s really nothing to do with grade boundaries. That’s almost the opposite. Cash handling is a bit of a problem, maybe the bursary schemes might be more useful to go from second year to the first year after you graduate instead of years one to three.

Kate Matthews, Art History at MMU

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A poor student doesn’t necessarily mean bad grades. This was done in the US with black students and they all dropped out because they just couldn’t handle the work. They’d been let in based on positive discrimination rather than skill.

Give them [low income students] bursaries and scholarships, or cheap accommodation.

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