Black students seeking a place at university are 21 times more likely to have their applications investigated than their white counterparts. The investigations are for suspected false or missing information.
The data, from the Ucas admissions service, has prompted accusations from Labour of “institutional racism” in the higher education system. It now demands for urgent action to stamp out “racial profiling”.
Ucas said it is “extremely concerned” by the figures, released under freedom of information rules, and has launched an investigation.
The data shows that 419 black British applicants to undergraduate courses last September were highlighted as a cause for concern. These were compared to 181 white British applicants, despite there being far fewer black applicants.
Figures show there were 42,580 black applicants, meaning that one in every 102 applications was investigated.
During the same period, there were 388,465 white British applicants, meaning just one in every 2,146 applications triggered further interrogation.
Ucas has insisted ethnicity is not considered during the screening of applications. This is even though prospective students declare their ethnicity in the forms they submit.
The figures come at a time when black students’ experiences of the higher education system have been in the spotlight.
Labour MP David Lammy revealed last year that 13 Oxford university colleges failed to make a single offer to black A-level applicants over a six-year period.
Several racist incidents
There have also been several recent reports of racist incidents at universities. Last month, two 18-year-old males were arrested after a Nottingham Trent University student posted video footage of racist chants in her student halls. A black student captured two males chanting “We hate the blacks” outside her bedroom door.
Members of a student law society at the University of Exeter were suspended after private WhatsApp conversations containing racist comments were shared on social media.
Earlier in April, Sheffield Hallam University launched an investigation after a rotten banana was reportedly thrown at a black graduate student during an ice hockey match.
On the latest figures, Mr Lammy, the former Labour higher education minister, said: “Questions clearly have to be asked about what is behind this disproportionality within the Ucas verification system, and why applications made by black students are more likely to be flagged and investigated.
“The evidence suggests that unconscious bias may well be a factor.”
Angela Rayner, shadow education secretary, said: “This shocking practice highlights just how pervasive institutional racism is across the higher education sector. Ucas has been completely unable to justify this discriminatory practice.