The University admissions service has come under fire after it revealed that more than half of the candidates flagged for potentially fraudulent applications are black.
A report by UCAS found that 52% of applications picked out by its own automated screening system between 2013 and 2017 were from aspiring black students, despite the fact that just 9% of university candidates were black.
This equates to 2,675 out of 260,550 black applicants being marked out over four years.
Meanwhile, although white students made up 73% of university applicants, they accounted for just 19% of flagged applications, with only 995 applications picked up out of 2,127,965.
Asian candidates - 11% of the candidate population - accounted for a further 16% of flagged applications.
Across each ethnicity, around 40% of applications which were flagged as fraudulent were ultimately denied by UCAS, meaning the prospective students were barred from continuing with their bid to go to university.
The former higher education minister, David Lammy, said it was “simply not good enough” for the admissions service to say it does not know why black applicants were so much more likely to be flagged up, saying he has “long been concerned” about a lack of transparency in the admissions process.
“UCAS need to explain why over half of all flagged applicants are black, despite black students accounting for just one in ten applications,” the Labour MP said.
“Why are one in every hundred black applicants flagged compared to one in every two thousand white applicants? UCAS needs to be able to explain this huge disproportionality and satisfy students from ethnic minorities that their applications will be looked upon fairly.”
NUS black students’ officer Ilyas Nagdee said that prospective black students were at risk of “losing all confidence in what is supposed to be a fair and equitable application system”.
“Black students are let down and failed by the higher education system in a number of other ways during their time in study,” he said. “UCAS must ensure that they are not put off or dissuaded from applying due to unconscious bias.”
UCAS admitted that while its “industry standard fraud detection software” does not analyse information about applicants’ race or nationality, an accumulation of historical data could have been skewing the system.
The service said it has now enhanced its system and will review and cleanse reference data each year.
UCAS’ chief executive, Clare Marchant, said the analysis had given the organisation “confidence” that it is only cancelling applications when there is clear evidence of fraud or missing information.
“However, 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,” she said.
“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.”
UCAS will also invite BAME organisations to help improve the experience for applicants, Marchant added.