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In a bid to help tackle racial discrimination, UCAS have announced they will be making their application forms name-blind come 2017. It is hoped the move will enable applicants from black and ethnic minority (BME) backgrounds to have a greater chance of success when applying to University. Candidates’ names are likely to be replaced by a unique code, meaning admission tutors at Universities across the country will not be able to make any unconscious inferences regarding a candidate based on their name.
It is well known that compared to their white counterparts, BME students are less likely to attend university and more likely to be victim of unconscious racial bias, no matter their level of academic achievement. For this reason, last Monday’s announcement from the Prime Minister marks a welcome move by UCAS. After all, a CV bursting with great academic achievements and interpersonal excellence is only worth so much if the person reviewing it has already fallen for some level of unconscious prejudice, simply from assumptions made from the name listed at the top. Despite moves for greater equality, non-white graduates across Britain are twice as likely to be unemployed six months after graduation, compared to their white peers. For BME students, unconscious racial bias is just another barrier in the long line of hurdles standing in the way of equality and limiting their chances of success. While many universities have in previous years reviewed the opportunities available to such students, by bringing in new bursaries for example, a place at many of the top Universities is still more likely to be out of reach for a BME applicant than a white applicant of the same level.
As a society, we have learnt to tackle racism head-on with steep punishments and prison sentences. Anyone spewing racist hatred in a public place is likely to be confronted by a passer-by, and can expect to be publicly humiliated with a YouTube video of their derogatory remarks posted within the hour. In fact, just this week LUSU have been campaigning against cultural appropriation at Halloween, whilst Lancaster’s African-Caribbean society hosted a cultural celebration event to mark Black History Month, highlighting the importance of black history and culture. Likewise, at Extrav last year, much was made of Pendle’s Wild West theme and possible appropriation of ethnic Indian Americans. Yet more needs to be done to tackle the unconscious racial bias that we don’t see so often.
Unconscious bias allows us to make implicit judgements of an individual without realisation. Such biases are influenced by our own background and cultural experiences and can include assumptions made regarding ability, intelligence and upbringing. This is not to say that admissions tutors themselves are inherently racist, nor are they to blame for the under representation of BME students across higher education. However, unconscious bias does stem from racism itself and will only be eliminated once racism is no longer an issue.
Despite applicant names being removed from UCAS submissions sent to universities, educational history will remain accessible, including home address and names of previous schools. In other words, admissions tutors will still be able to see if a student is from a top grammar school sixth-form in Norfolk or a rough academy in Salford. Furthermore, applications will only remain name-blind up until the point of interview, or an offer being made. Other organisations have announced similar plans, including the BBC, NHS, and top graduate recruiter Deloitte, who will go a step further by masking university name. Currently, UCAS does collect information relating to a candidate’s ethnic background but for statistical purposes only.
As a student from an ethnic minority myself, I welcome name-blind applications. Hiding a name to divert discrimination will not solve the issue of negative implicit attitudes. However, in a society where racial discrimination still persists, UCAS standing on the side of ethnic minority students is better than UCAS taking no action at all.