Disadvantaged students are unable to overcome an “unfairness” in the system for applying to university, despite putting hours of work into their personal statements, a new report warns.
The report, published today by the Higher Education Policy Institute (HEPI), says the personal statement should be replaced with a series of short-response questions to address the “unnecessary burden” of the task, which is “contributing to inequalities in higher education access”.
Commenting on the report, Kevin Gilmartin, post-16 specialist at the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said that, while “teachers work hard” to help students with advice and guidance on their personal statements, “they cannot solve a systemic inequity, and it is the system that needs to change”.
HEPI says that, in its current form, the personal statement ”contradicts the fair admissions code of practice, and is therefore unfair”.
Its report suggests alternatives, such as replacing the personal statement with a personal essay “that focuses on applicants as people”, or removing the personal statement altogether.
University applications: personal statements ‘not fit for purpose’
Based on analysis of 164 personal statement drafts from 83 applicants from underrepresented backgrounds, the report says that 83 per cent of drafts submitted failed to supply an evidence.-based opinion about a relevant academic topic.
The analysis also showed that more than one-third of the applicants (35 per cent) failed to write with cohesive paragraphs in at least one of their drafts.
Some applicants were also spending as long as 30 to 40 hours crafting their essay, according to the report.
Mr Gilmartin said the ASCL “welcomed” the “principle of leveling the playing field in terms of university admissions” and looked forward to “examining the proposals in more detail”.
Lee Elliot Major, professor of social mobility at the University of Exeter, said personal statements “have become little more than barometers of middle-class privilege and are no longer fair or fit for purpose in university admissions”.
Professor Major said the review “adds to mounting evidence that reforms are now needed to ensure statements are an effective way of capturing a student’s passion for their subject and their academic potential”.
The lead author of the report, Tom Fryer, said the paper provided.”new evidence on the huge challenges applicants from underrepresented backgrounds face”.
“We place the blame on the format of the personal statement,” he added.