Identifying the neediest 1

February 7, 2008

Your cover story "Reaching out but still falling short" (24 January) pointed to apparently disappointing figures for students from widening participation target groups. The article reported a 1.24 per cent reduction between 2005 and 2007 in the number of Universities and Colleges Admissions Service applicants from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who were accepted into university. But what it failed to recognise was the growing number of students whose socioeconomic group is classified as "unknown". These "unknowns" increased by more than 13 per cent over the same period (93,011 in 2007 compared with 82,195 in 2005), thus skewing your reported "decreases" considerably. When taking these factors into account, there has been a small increase in the proportion of accepted Ucas applicants from these lower socioeconomic groups. This during a time, as the article points out, when variable top-up fees were introduced. It is a pity that articles such as this mislead readers, perhaps unwittingly, into questioning the effectiveness of widening participation initiatives.

Michael Kerrigan, Loughborough University.

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