Equal opportunities for all of the university admissions

Doesn’t the phrase “equal opportunities” sound so appealing especially for disadvantaged sectors of society? Meaning well, leading world universities offer equal opportunities for all students despite their backgrounds and sometimes “equality” can be opposed to “fairness” in university admissions. Providing equal opportunities for students does not guarantee that they will be fairly selected while dividing available places between students of different backgrounds to make sure the places are equally distributed can deprive students from better schools of opportunities. 


A recent article on university admissions talks about the matter of “equal opportunities”  in Oxford and Cambridge universities in the UK. These universities are known to be one of the best universities in the world with the brightest students. Admission process and criteria are also way above other regular universities so not anyone can pass, and normally those who pass already have necessary credentials. Of course, universities who accept students from best schools may be criticised for being biased and discriminative against disadvantaged students. In order to have an equal proportion of students from different backgrounds, the universities start accepting students who more or less qualify to study to give hope to people that there is “fairness” in the society and all of us have “equal opportunities”. A business dictionary defines equal opportunities as “principle of non-discrimination which emphasizes that opportunities in education, employment, advancement, benefits and resource distribution, and other areas should be freely available to all citizens irrespective of their age, race, sex, religion, political association, ethnic origin, or any other individual or group characteristic unrelated to ability, performance, and qualification” (Ramsey, 2017). The emphasis here is at the word opportunities, it means that universities have to give a fair chance to all the application despite their backgrounds, both educational and financial, but when choosing the ones who truly deserve to study there all aspects except for skills should be put aside. The article states that in selecting applicants it is “better to look individually, to pool information about bright youngsters who have been attracted to (or encouraged towards) widening-access schemes (this by the way is a genuinely simple and great idea) and to spend time on individuals, rather than on algorithms” (Ramsey, 2017). It seems to be a good strategy, and though it is much work universities need capable students so they should not neglect any way to find jewels.

A good intention of universities to provide equal opportunities for all students is commendable, but the process of selection should be fair. Still, it is difficult to define what is “fair” to students who are not at fault for having fewer credentials than other more advantaged students. Taking away opportunities from students form better schools in order to give places to less advantaged students is not the best example of “fairness”. What do you think? How to make sure that students have equal opportunities and fair selection?


Ramsey, C. (2017, November 2). University admissions: ‘equal opportunity’ should not mean punishing pupils from good schools. Retrieved from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/2017/11/02/university-admissions-equal-opportunity-should-not-mean-punishing/

Photo credit: https://thesaurus.plus/related/equal_opportunities/imbalance


37 thoughts on “Equal opportunities for all of the university admissions

    1. Although affirmative action programms and measures have always been difficult, I think in a society full of inequality there is a need for those practices to even out the field at least a little bit. An example of this in Kazakhstan is more state grants in universities for students from rural areas. When you consider the wages in those places and the quality of school education, it does explain the need to implement affirmative action to provide the students from those areas a chance to compete.


      1. Dear Sagida,
        let’s imagine that in a certain Kazakhstani university there are 20 grants available, and 5 of them MUST go to students from rural areas. Do you think it is fair to divide students based on their place of origin? Because there might be students from urban areas who are more than legible to get the grant.


  1. The Department of Justice in U.S. may sue Harvard University for discrimination AGAINST Asian Americans.


    1. Looking at the example of U.S. is good in the methods of implementation and the mistakes made, but the context of the societies is quite different.
      I agree with te statement talking about the U.S. experience by Allen et. al. (2000): “The paradigm of White supremacy, domination, and exclusion has cut across the areas of education, health, politics, criminal justice, and the economy (Morris, Allen, Maurrasse, & Gilbert, 1995). Affirmative action’s emphases on inclusiveness and diversity, however, have the power to enrich the higher education experience for all involved (Hurtado, Milem, Clayton-Pedersen, & Allen, 1999).” (p. 8)
      And there is also the difference of the aims pursued by affirmative action, such as the problems of racial inequality, gender inequality, or financial inequality.
      I am not as knowleageable in the field of public policy and affirmative action overall, but from what I have gathered there is empirical evidence of the effectiveness of affirmative action in various educational systems.


  2. Dear Fariza,

    Thank you for your post! I agree that prestigious and famous universities may change their admission system in order to give chances for students with different backgrounds. Of course, admissions should focus on students’ knowledge and skills, but some possibilities should be given to students from rural areas and students with poor academic background. I think it will make admission process fairer.


  3. There is nothing fair about university admissions process, especially in Kazakhstan. The difference between a good application and a bad one is most of the time simply the amount of money spent on private tutoring, extramural classes, private school tuition fees, etc. It is clear that a high score in IELTS is impossible if you rely only on your regular English classes at school. In our country, secondary education has been partially (unofficially) privatised, as the requirements of university admissions boards are not in line with what free public schooling can possibly deliver, but aim for graduates who receive a significant part of their education outside the state system (or a very small number of students of “gifted schools”, which are intrinsically unfair).

    Thus, I think fighting inequality should start at the school level, where children from poorer families should be given equal chances for learning to the richer ones.


      1. What I mean is poor families do not have the resources to elevate their children above the minimum achievement level that the public school system provides. And this minimum is clearly not sufficient to be admitted to most universities in Kazakhstan, or to win a state scholarship. Richer families do have these resources, as they can pay for their children’s tuition in private schools, hire a private tutor, send them to after-school courses, etc. This way education beyond a certain basic level becomes inaccessible to children of parents below a certain level of income. That is the unfairness.

        Giving equal chances for learning then would mean providing this additional academic support to secondary school students free of charge or for a nominal fee (i.e. if they have the aptitude for this). E.g., extra English or science classes, clubs, etc. This was quite well realised in the Soviet system by the way, but then lost during the years of economic collapse.


      1. I haven’t studied the US system much, but studies I have seen all show that the achievement gap is associated with social disparities and the funding people from different ethnic and socio-economic groups receive in their education. Have you tried a lot of things and they all failed? Was NCLB an ernest attempt?

        I hear school desegregation works really well in bridging the achievement gap between White and Black students, but after a few years of progress it’s at a standstill. There is empirical evidence in favour of desegregation, but no political will to implement it? Is that what you mean by failure?


      1. Why do you need to measure thing like fairness? To me, it’s pretty clear if something is unfair. If Black and Latino schools receive significantly lower funding from the state than White schools — that’s unfair. What other measurement do you need?


  4. I am delighted to learn that “unfairness” is obvious to you. Clearly all the debates about unfairness in the US must be pure foolishness.
    Since you seem to be quite convinced about your opinion, not sure if there is room for further discussion.


  5. @farihandro thank you for the great blog post! The issue you brought up is a very controversial one. Equality is a really vague and complex term even hard to define. Answering your question, I can say that I really like the case of the Soviet Union where the son of the shepherd from a remote kazakh village could go and study in Moscow state university. From the stories of my parents and relatives I know that all Soviet citizens from both rural and urban areas could get good quality education at schools without going to personal tutors and courses and then enter universities relying on their skills and competencies. So the ideology “Those who don’t work, don’t eat” was in action and people were judged by their merits and abilities.
    P.S. I am not an advocate of the Soviet system per se but the education of that time was really admirable.


    1. Please provide data on how many sons of shepherds attend top schools in Russia. Do not forget to provide information on daughters of shepherds as well. Then please provide the SAME information for KZ so that we can all make an informed assessment. Such unsupported statements that you make sounds great. Please support with statistics.


    1. “Those who don’t work, don’t eat.” This quote might be from the Bible. This “threat” is simply not credible. People do not believe that society will allow them to starve if they do not work. In economics, it is called the “moral hazard” problem.


    2. But there is also the empirical measurement of equity in education systems (based on weakness of the relationship between achievement and family background), as mentioned by Pasi Sahlberg, who talked at the NIS conference about the success of educational systems and PISA rankings in his speech “Global Educational Reform Movement (GERM) and the future of public education”. (https://pasisahlberg.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/Astana-Talk-2017.pdf)
      One example I remembered well is his statistical and empirical discussion of how Singapore has high quality of educational system, but lacks equity in its provision. You can see that at page 8 of the link above.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. This was an answer to the ““Equality is a really vague and complex term that is hard to define.” It is difficult for us to discuss something if we do not know what we are talking about.” statement.


      2. I like this post because it mentions the word “empirical”. I am on old foggy; a dinosaur. I was very pleased with the perhap naive idealism that I see in many of the posts. However please support your causes with data, information, statistics and evidence. In the real word feel-good statements are insufficient for making good policy.


    1. My only request. Please support your arguments with relevant data, statistics and research. I read many posts that sound great and make us all feel good. I am sorry if I appear skeptical. Anecdotes are useful but cannot form the basis of national strategies and policy.


  6. Equal opportunities for all of the university admissions
    In theory, equal opportunity sounds great. However, in practice, it is very difficult.
    “Need to even out the field at least a little bit.” It is a very unclear recommendation from the point of view of public policy. What is to be done? Could you please elaborate on this point?
    Please review the experiences of the U.S. over the past decades, and learn from our mistakes. What is the empirical evidence that affirmative action programs work? It may be good in theory. The effectiveness of implementation is unclear.
    We must distinguish between equal opportunity in terms of process versus equal opportunity in terms of outcomes. This is a very common confusion.
    The department of Justice in U.S. may sue Harvard University for discrimination against Asian Americans.
    Need to clarify the meaning of “give chance to”, and “some possibilities should be given to “. The devil is always in the details. The path to hell is paved with good intensions.
    How would you compare a “rich rural” student with a “poor urban” student?
    Could you please elaborate on what exactly you have in mind when you say that “children from poorer families should be given equal chances for learning?
    From an empirical point of view, how would you measure “fairness” or “unfairness”. You hand wave and talk vaguely about fairness but in practice and reality, you must be precise and specific.
    If there is no political will and desegregation does not happen, do you think it is a success? What is your definition of success? Please cite the relevant references that show that desegregation has been successful in the U.S. In fact, I think schools are now as segregated as they have ever been. Please check and confirm.
    My guess is that the per student expenditures on exceptional children is higher than the per student expenditure on regular children. Does that mean that it is unfair? Perhaps in the West of KZ, the per student costs are higher than in the South, due to the climate. PLEASE CHECK. Does that mean it is unfair?
    I am totally ignorant about the quality of the education during the Soviet times.
    I am delighted to learn that “unfairness” is obvious to you. Clearly all the debates about unfairness I the U.S. must be pure foolishness. Since you seem to be quite convinced about your opinion, not sure if there is room for further discussion.
    “Equality is a really vague and complex term that is hard to define.” It is difficult for us to discuss something if we do not know what we are talking about.
    “Those who don’t work, don’t eat.” This quote might be from the Bible. This “threat” is simply not credible. People do not believe that society will allow them to starve if they do not work. In economics, it is called the “moral hazard” problem.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s