Personal statements for university students are ditched amid fears some applicants get unfair advantage

  • Under new plans, personal statements will be scrapped for university applicants
  • The 47-line essay was used to demonstrate achievements beyond grades
  • A questionnaire covering areas like preferred learning style will be used instead

Personal statements for university applicants will be scrapped amid claims they give middle-class students an unfair advantage.

Under plans to ‘level the playing field’, the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas) will drop the 47-line essay used to demonstrate achievements beyond grades.

Aspiring undergraduates will instead answer a questionnaire covering six key areas, including motivation for the course and preferred learning style. But critics have slammed the move as ‘dumbing down’, claiming it ‘insults’ those from lower-class backgrounds.

The 4,000-character personal statement is seen by some as a mechanism to ‘widen the gap’, with disadvantaged students unable to ‘shine in the same way their more advantaged peers can’, Ucas said.

Aspiring undergraduates will instead answer a questionnaire covering six key areas, including motivation for the course and preferred learning style (file image of university graduates)

Some argue better-off students get more help from their families in writing the statement, while many private schools offer specialist assistance. But Chris McGovern, a former headteacher and education policy adviser to Margaret Thatcher, said the plan ‘lowers the bar in the name of inclusivity… demeaning the achievement of those who get in’.

He added: ‘It’s insulting to youngsters who may be from a poor background, but they’ve been well educated and want to show they can do it. It is making it easier by dumbing down. We want to make schools raise performance, not lower it.’ Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at the University of Buckingham, said a questionnaire makes it easier to make comparisons, but is ‘far less revealing than leaving it to the applicants to freely put their own cases’.

He added: ‘It could be that this administrative convenience is the reason it appeals to Ucas, but more likely it is pressure from the Government to narrow gaps. The proposed change bears down on those who can and gives a leg up to those who can’t without help.’

A Ucas survey of 2022 applicants found 72 per cent felt positive about the personal statement. But 83 per cent said writing a personal statement is stressful, with 79 per cent agreeing that the statement is difficult to complete without support.

Under plans to ‘level the playing field’, the Universities and Colleges Admission Service (Ucas) will drop the 47-line essay used to demonstrate achievements beyond grades (file image of university graduates)

Ucas said written responses could, in future, be axed entirely and replaced with video submissions.

The changes are outlined in a report, Future of Undergraduate Admissions. ‘Feedback shows fears that students who do not have access to high quality advice will not be able to use the statement to shine in the same way more advantaged peers can,’ it read.

‘There are also concerns about the extent to which students understand how providers use personal statements in decision making.’

Kim Eccleston, head of strategy and reform at Ucas, said: ‘We believe this will create a more supportive framework… as well as capturing the information universities and colleges have told us they really need to know from applicants.’

The reforms will be introduced no earlier than 2024 for 2025 applicants.

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