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The Business Magazine May 2024
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Cheltenham-based UCAS to waive fees for students from low-income families

13 May 2024
The Business Magazine article image for: Cheltenham-based UCAS to waive fees for students from low-income families

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS) is set to launch a new package of support targeting students who might disregard university as an option, either because of initial financial barriers or a belief they won’t meet entry requirements.

Based in Cheltenham, UCAS has introduced the measures in response to concerns that progress towards helping the most disadvantaged students into further education has stalled in recent years.

Though the total number of young people eligible for free school meals is growing, the entry rate for students from this group is at its lowest level since 2019.

And while the UK’s 18-year-old population is also rising, but university application rates for 18-year-olds aren’t keeping pace.

The first of the new initiatives will see UCAS waive the usual £28.50 university application fee for students in receipt of free school meals.

In England, 19.1 per cent of 18-year-olds eligible for free school meals go on to university, compared to 36.4 per cent of those not eligible.

The second initiative will allow applicants to viewhistoric entry grades data and offer rates for each course.

Previous UCAS research has found almost half of applicants were admitted with lower than published entry requirements.

The measure is intended to increase transparency around the admissions process, allowing students to better understand how their predicted or achieved grades compare to those of previous successful applicants to the courses they’re interested in.

Dr Jo Saxton was appointed chief executive of UCAS in September 2023.

“In my career, I’ve led both some of the most disadvantaged schools in the country and taught in leading universities”, she said.

“Not only have I seen first-hand the challenges faced by the students, but also the transformational impact higher education can have.

“In my new role, I want to ensure UCAS does everything it can to ensure more students from disadvantaged backgrounds can benefit from the life-changing experience of university.

“Applying through UCAS is only one part of a much broader journey students take, which starts as early as primary school.

“As a sector, we need a fresh conversation on how to address the stubbornly persistent gaps in participation and how we can collectively help accelerate progress in widening access and participation.

“I want to make sure no young person is forced to rule out higher education as an option, either because of the costs associated with applying or because they lack the confidence that their application will be successful.

“These new initiatives are the first in what will be a series of steps we take to make the university application process more fair, simple and accessible, and I’m delighted that UCAS can announce this support today.”  

Lewis, 17, from Lincolnshire, receives free school meals. He’s looking to apply to Japanese studies with Linguistics in 2025.

“Waiving the UCAS application fee will mean it’s less of a burden on me and students like me when finances can be stretched”, he said.

“As one of five children in my family, I have to work a part-time job as I don’t like asking my mum for money.

“For me, the £28.50 would be the equivalent of working a five-hour shift at my work, just to apply.”

Any student applying for 2025 entry through their school or college who’s received free school meals at any point in the last six years will be eligible for the fee waiver.

Born and raised in Berkshire, Dan fell into journalism after completing his bachelor’s degree in English at UCL.

Writing for The Business Magazine and local Biz News sites has given him the opportunity to chat with all manner of small business owners and share their success stories with a wider audience.

Outside of work, Dan enjoys live music, board games and quiz shows, and is making a slow but persistent effort to learn Spanish.

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