The Government this week claimed that work on widening participation was beginning to have "real impact" as new figures showed an increase in the proportion of students from state schools and poorer backgrounds going to university.
Annual performance indicators published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that 88.3 per cent of young full-time undergraduate entrants were from state schools in 2006-07, up from 87.9 per cent the previous year.
THE WORST AND BEST FOR ACCESS
|Institutions with lowest proportion of students from low socioeconomic groups Young full-time undergraduate entrants, 2006-07|
|1||University of Oxford||9.8||17.9|
|2||University of Cambridge||11.5||19.2|
|3||University of Bristol||14.3||21.0|
|5||Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance||15.3||.9|
|6||University of Edinburgh||15.7||21.4|
|7||University of St Andrews||15.7||20.2|
|8||University of Exeter||16.7||23.9|
|9||University of York||16.8||20.8|
|10||University of Nottingham||17.4||22.5|
|Institutions with highest proportion of students from low socioeconomic groups. Young full-time undergraduate entrants, 2006-07|
|1||Harper Adams University College||58.4||39.1|
|2||St Mary’s University College||52.4||33.6|
|3||University of Wolverhampton||51.6||39.6|
|4||Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies||49.9||40.5|
|5||University of Bradford||49.0||35.5|
|6||University of Teesside||48.6||38.3|
|7||University of Sunderland||48.0||36.8|
|10||University of Ulster||47.2||36.0|
|* Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies is now part of University College Birmingham. Bell College is now part of the University of the West of Scotland|
The proportion from lower socioeconomic groups climbed from 29.8 per cent to 30.3 per cent across the UK.
The national figures masked significant differences between institutions. As in the previous year, the University of Oxford admitted the lowest proportion of students from lower socioeconomic groups, and that proportion fell from 11.4 per cent last year, to 9.8 per cent.
Harper Adams University College was the most inclusive institution for the second year running, taking 58.4 per cent of students from less well-off groups.
Bill Rammell, Minister for Higher Education, said that the national figures showed "good steady progress" and were an indication that the Government's student financial support package and initiatives such as AimHigher were working. But he said that he would be "the first to admit there is still a long way to go".
A recent proposal by the National Council for Educational Excellence, led by Steve Smith, vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, is that schools could be assessed on how many students they send to university.
Mr Rammell told Times Higher Education: "I think there is an arguable case that, in terms of getting schools and colleges to take admissions to university as seriously as they should, there isn't a performance indicator within the system, and that's something we are looking at."
A spokeswoman for the University of Oxford said that last year's figures did "not easily compare" as they had been calculated using a new dataset.
"Oxford's retention rate for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds is exceptionally good," she said, adding that the system used to calculate benchmarks was "unhelpful and ... unrealistic".
A spokesperson for Bristol said it had a "committed, dynamic" team working on widening participation, adding: "We're not going to beat ourselves up about these figures, but we will keep working hard at widening participation and looking for fresh approaches."