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Response to recent article on UCAS, printed in The Independent 4 August 2015

After reading this recently published article (click here to read) regarding UCAS we felt it necessary to issue a response letter, the details of which we would like to share (below):


Dear Sir or Madam,

We read with frustration Andrew Grice’s article in The Independent (4th August 2015) on UCAS refusal to release student data. HEAT is a collaboration of over 40 English universities working together to evaluate the impact of fair access programmes. The article talks about “suspicions that higher education institutions would rather data be kept secret as it would expose their record on fair access”.  This is unfair and certainly not the case for HEAT member universities (www.heat.ac.uk). HEAT has been lobbying UCAS for two years to release student data for research purposes, we argue that the non-release of individual data (which allows us to link student background, outreach engagement and student outcomes) is an obstacle to robust research. Our university members are committed to the provision of research to help us understand what is effective in reducing the social class gap in student HE participation and success. HEAT members see this research as part of their social responsibility recognising that many students they work with in schools and colleges need early impartial advice so that they make the right choices, university or not.

HEAT is currently rolling out across England, to increase membership and to build a national evidence basis for the HE sector. The roll out, funded by HEFCE for three years to 2017, is evidence that universities do not want to keep their data “secret” but instead want to investigate and share data to help them work more effectively with students from disadvantaged backgrounds.  We urge Alan Milburn to talk to HEAT so that we can share our approach with him.

HEAT members recently tracked around 60,000 students who had participated in a range of university outreach programmes (Tasters, Mentoring, etc.) to find out if they entered HE. Over three quarters of these students had no parental background in HE and many were classified as disadvantaged.  32% of disadvantaged students went onto HE and this compares to an average progression rate of 25% for students from similar disadvantage. What’s more, HEAT universities now know that the majority of outreach participants stay on and achieve their degree (89%). Tracking outreach participants post HE, through to employment, reveals that 79% end up in a job classified as a higher level socio economic occupation.  We believe that this research is robust and provides evidence of the impact of the thousands of outreach activity that HEAT universities are delivering each year to low performing schools and colleges and disadvantaged students. We also know that this research would be even richer if UCAS would release individual data so that we can fully research the application behaviour of disadvantaged students, currently a missing part of the HEAT research jigsaw.

I would be grateful if you could publish a response to this article in the Times Higher giving universities an opportunity to challenge this unfair claim that they are somehow complicit in the withholding of data for social mobility research purposes.


Sharon Smith