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University of Bradford’s VC headlines national news programme


VC Prof Shirley Congdon appearing on Newsnight

Structural inequality lies behind access and attainment gaps - but universities can help, says Vice Chancellor

University of Bradford Vice Chancellor Professor Shirley Congdon appeared on BBC2’s Newsnight last night (Thursday August 5) to discuss issues around school exams, A-level results and access to higher education.

Headlining the flagship news programme, Prof Congdon highlighted the work universities are doing to address structural inequalities as they relate to access to higher education - a problem she said had been in existence “for many years before Covid” but had been exacerbated by the pandemic.

She took part in a discussion of the issues alongside Sir Kevan Collins, a visiting professor at the UCL Institute of Education and a former government advisor and Jonathan Simons from think-tank Public First and was interviewed by news anchor Katie Razzall.

Students come first

There were a record number of university applicants this year: 682,000; a 4% increase on last year. There was also a record number of 18-year-olds applying; representing 43% of the 18-year-old population (310,000 – up 10% on last year), and a 7% increase in mature applicants.

When asked about the higher than usual demand for university places, especially during the Clearing period, Prof Congdon said they were dealing with higher volumes of applications for university and were making more offers, adding: “Universities are prepared to deal with Clearing… Students are at the heart of everything we do, we want to be fair and consistent. Universities are open, they have places.”

She went on: “We want to create equal opportunities but it’s important we remember there are systematic inequalities that have been in existence for many years pre-Covid… the problem of children in schools being unable to access university has highlighted… an ongoing problem of access and attainment gaps. Clearly there are issues with students from disadvantaged backgrounds who cannot have the same opportunity because of structural inequality related to poverty.”

Universities are ready

She also backed high school teachers following some criticism in the mainstream media, adding: “We have to put faith in school teachers, they have been dealing with very difficult times. Universities have systems in place to assess students continually from admission onwards, we are constantly monitoring students.”

The University of Bradford has done a significant amount of work in relation to reducing access and attainment gaps as a result of structural inequality. This year alone it has been ranked #1 in England on the new Social Mobility Index ranking system and has been shortlisted for a Social Mobility Award.

Initiatives include:-

  • A contextualised admissions system which takes into account factors other than exam grades and a chance to earn additional USAS points by attending open days and summer schools
  • A ‘laptop for life’ loan scheme
  • Dedicated support packages for care leavers and estranged students, and financial support for asylum seekers
  • Step Up to HE - an academic transition programme that is open to all new UG students that aims to improve study skills, raise awareness of support and services, encourage independent learning and enable students to familiarise themselves with the campus  
  • Screening for all new students for Specific Learning Differences (SpLDs), recognising that many SpLDs are undiagnosed in the school system, allowing the University to quickly identify students who would benefit from further intervention and support

Prof Congdon added that although the Government had provided additional funding for some health programmes, demand remained high and places were limited by statutory restrictions (on things such as student-to-teacher ratios) and therefore places for these courses during Clearing are likely to be limited.

Return to campus

The University of Bradford is preparing for a full campus experience from September. Students can expect in-person welcome back activities (freshers’ week), in-person teaching and practical sessions, more opportunities to network and organise face-to-face study groups and the return of sporting and cultural activities. All of these are a big part of our university experience.

Students starting at university this autumn can be confident that universities are prepared to welcome students safely for the new term; they will be continuing to work with public health experts and using their experiences from the past year-and-a-half to ensure campuses are healthy and safe places to live and learn.


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