Black applicants ‘face more university fraud claims’

Black students are more likely to have their university applications flagged for potential fraud or errors than any other ethnic group, according to data from the Ucas admissions service.

Of the 5,160 forms flagged between 2013 and 2017, 52% were from black students.

Ucas said it was unclear why this is the case and it would work with organisations representing ethnic minority groups to examine the issue.

White students – 73% of all applicants – had 19% of flagged applications.

About 16% of flagged applications were from Asian students, who made up 11% of applicants, Ucas said.

Black applicants made up around 9% of all university undergraduate applicants in the period.

Ucas released the figures after an investigation by the Independent last month brought the issue to light.

The details come amid increasing focus on black and minority ethnic students in higher education, and their experiences at universities and colleges.

Ucas said a student’s ethnicity was not used in any of the processes that can lead to an application being flagged.

It said it would now be “reaching out to representative organisations to strengthen the voices of Black, Asian, and minority ethnic students in our decision-making and processes”.

But Labour MP David Lammy, a former minister for higher education, told the Times Ucas “needs to be able to explain this huge disproportionality and satisfy students from ethnic minorities that their applications will be looked upon fairly.”

Earlier this month, Mr Lammy was involved in a Twitter row with Oxford University over the number of black students it has admitted in the past three years,

‘Generally fair’

Ucas says its verification service aims to prevent students from gaining an unfair advantage, or a higher education place, through deception.

As well as using fraud detection software, there are systems for detecting similarities and duplicates between applications, and an alerts process for universities and colleges who believe an application warrants further investigation.

Ucas office
Image copyright: Getty Images

Ucas said about 40% of the applications flagged for concern are cancelled and this was broadly proportionate to the percentages flagged in each ethnic group – suggesting that the verification is “generally robust and fair”.

Overall, there were 2.9m university applications over the last five years. Of these, 5,160 (0.18%) had applications flagged and 2,085 (0.07%) were cancelled.

Clare Marchant, Ucas’s chief executive, said: “There is more work for us to do to ensure that flagging is as robust as it can be across all areas of the verification service.

“We’ve already made enhancements to our fraud detection service, introduced an additional review of applications prior to cancellation, and ensured all staff involved in verification activities have had up-to-date unconscious bias training.

“We have set out a programme of work to further review verification processes in collaboration with universities and colleges, and we will be inviting organisations that represent Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups to work with us to help us take a thorough look at key areas of our business, to improve the experience for all applicants.”

A Universities UK spokesman said: “Ucas’s fraud detection software does not look at personal information such as name, address or ethnicity, so the flags seem to be based on very specific parts of the application,” he said.

“Where flags have been resolved following a review by Ucas staff, this should not have an impact on a university’s admissions decision.”

First Published 31.05.18:

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