Access bait fails to lure poor

May 28, 1999

Government attempts to widen participation by under-represented groups are failing following the phasing out of maintenance grants, according to an analysis by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service.

The number of potential students from lower social classes applying for full-time higher education is static in all but one group, a UCAS spokesman revealed this week. The analysis classifies social class according to the occupation of the household's main breadwinner.

UCAS divides the population into six classes: professional; managerial and technical; skilled non-manual; skilled manual; partly skilled; and unskilled. The numbers applying from unskilled and partly skilled backgrounds is static, while numbers from those with skilled manual backgrounds show a slight increase.

The finding comes as a blow to government attempts to widen participation. An extra 45,000 funded places have been provided for next year, about 15,000 of which are for full-time students. The Higher Education Funding Council for England has also allocated Pounds 21 million through formula funding to institutions that excel at widening participation, plus a further Pounds 7.5 million through special funding next year.

UCAS refused to release details of its analysis, based on applications received by the December 15 deadline. It said information would not be made public until June.

But it did release details of parallel studies looking at the ethnic origin of applicants and those declaring a disability. Figures relate to those who had applied by May 16, compared with the previous year.

There has been a big increase in the number of British Asian students applying to university. The number from Bangladeshi backgrounds is up by 11 per cent and the number from Chinese backgrounds by 6 per cent.

The number of black students applying is down, with those from a Caribbean background showing the biggest fall. UCAS said there had been a fractional rise in the proportion giving their ethnicity as black over the past five years. But figures for this year show a drop of 0.2 per cent for black students overall.

Meanwhile, the number of students with mental health problems applying has rocketed by 38 per cent. Dyslexic students are up by 12 per cent, while wheelchair users are down by 16 per cent.

UCAS also released its applications digest for May 16. The total number of people applying is down by 2.3 per cent. The number of applications made by mature students shows the greatest fall. For potential students aged over 25, applications are down by 10 per cent; figures for 21 to 24-year-olds and under 21s are down by 8 per cent and 0.7 per cent, respectively.

Courses in software engineering and business, sports and computer science remain popular. Applications for engineering courses and the physical sciences are down.

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