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Competing conceptions of fair admission and their implications for supporting students to fulfil their potential at university

Boliver, Vikki and Powell, Mandy (2022) 'Competing conceptions of fair admission and their implications for supporting students to fulfil their potential at university.', Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education .


This paper explores how fairness was conceptualised by those responsible for admission to highly selective undergraduate courses at 17 universities in England. Fairness was conceptualised principally with reference to the traditional meritocratic equality of opportunity paradigm, which holds that university places should go to the most highly qualified candidates irrespective of social background. There was sympathy for an alternative meritocratic equity of opportunity model of fairness, involving the assessment of prospective students’ qualifications in light of their socio-economic circumstances. However, our interviewees reported institutional resistance to reducing academic entry requirements for socio-economically disadvantaged students for fear of setting them up to fail, and acknowledged that existing pedagogical practices and academic support structures were inadequate for the task of supporting disadvantaged students entering with lower grades to fulfil their potential at university.

Item Type:Article
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Available under License - Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives 4.0.
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Publisher statement:This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.
Date accepted:No date available
Date deposited:05 July 2022
Date of first online publication:24 April 2022
Date first made open access:05 July 2022

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