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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 November 2005, 17:19 GMT
Plans to erase university bias
Hefce wants fair admission for all ethnic groups
The names of students applying to university should be withheld to avoid racial discrimination, a report says.

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (Hefce) has made the proposals, saying ethnicity may be identified through an applicant's name.

Hefce is calling on the University and College Admissions Service to give "urgent consideration" to the idea.

While finding no evidence of widespread racism, Hefce said applicants to law schools may face discrimination.

The research indicated applicants from all ethnic minorities, apart from Chinese applicants, had lower than expected offer rates when applying to study law.

For example, Bangladeshi applicants are 7 percentage points less likely to be offered a place than their white peers, after taking other factors into account.

Hefce is urging the Committee of Heads of Law Schools to commission an investigation into the application process for students wishing to study law.

But the Hefce research did not find evidence to back up a previous study which found evidence of discrimination against ethnic minority students applying to "old" universities.

However, applicants from Pakistani backgrounds had a slightly lower than expected offer rate across the whole higher education sector.

Names withheld

Withholding names may go some way to preventing racial discrimination, Hefce says.

"Ethnicity may be identified through the applicant's name and so we recommend that Ucas gives urgent consideration to a long standing proposal to withhold applicants' names for the first stages of the application process," the report says.

"This would reduce the possibility of discrimination being exercised and would build confidence in the application process."

Sir Howard Newby, chief executive of Hefce, said: "It is clear from this analysis that prospective students from ethnic minorities should not be put off from applying to study at the most highly selective universities.

"Gaining a place may not be easy, but applicants from ethnic minorities will, in general, have similar chances of gaining an offer as equivalently qualified white applicants.

"This is good news, but we do need to do more research in this area, particularly with respect to ethnic minority students who wish to study law."

A spokesman for Ucas said it was open to making changes to the application process, but said consultation was necessary.

"Ucas would consider initiatives to make admissions to universities and colleges fairer but would have to consult with its member institutions before any changes such as this are made," said the spokesman.

"If there is a groundswell of opinion requesting change, then we will start a process of consultation."

Professor Michael Gunn, chair of the Committee of Heads of Law Schools, said the organisation welcomed the report findings.

"There's a need for further research," Professor Gunn told the BBC News website.

"We're talking to Hefce about funding that research. We need to look at the data and get more up-to-date data."

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