Universities are going to test “name-blind” admissions for the first time to stop potential discrimination based on assumptions about students’ names.
Exeter, Huddersfield, Liverpool and Winchester will pilot a system this year where the names of applicants are not seen during admissions.
The aim is to stop “potential bias” about students’ race and identity.
Universities Minister Jo Johnson said he backed attempts to “stamp out inequality” in higher education.
The pilot project aims to see if masking the names of applicants will remove any “unconscious bias”.
Without identifying names, applications would be considered without knowing the gender of students or any indications of their ethnic background or religion.
The admissions process would use any relevant contextual information about a student – such as whether they were from a low-income family – but the name would be concealed.
Last year, former Prime Minister David Cameron said universities should use name-blind recruitment as a way of promoting social mobility and preventing bias against minorities.
The pilot study will find out how this might be implemented more widely, such as whether the name of the applicant should be known before a decision is taken to offer them a place.
For universities that interview applicants for some courses, they would need to decide when admissions officers would have access to the names.
At present, there are no universities that use “name-blind” admissions.
But other employers have announced similar plans to try to run a recruitment process while concealing much of the information about applicants.
Deloitte said its recruitment process would take place without knowing which university or school that applicants had attended, in a bid for a more diverse workforce.
Universities have been under pressure from the government to make sure that they are open to applicants from all social backgrounds.
Last week, Oxford University announced that this year it would be admitting the highest proportion of students from state schools for more than 40 years.
This week, the Office for Fair Access said that universities would spend £834m on outreach projects and scholarships to support poorer students.
Helen Thorne of the Ucas admissions service said the project would allow UK universities to evaluate any benefits and see how it worked with “existing approaches used to ensure that admissions are fair”.
Mr Johnson said: “We are committed to ensuring that everyone with the ability, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to study at our world-class universities. That is why we called on Ucas to conduct this review.”