Access drive is having a 'real impact', says minister

Hesa data show both a rise in state-school intake and improved retention. Rebecca Attwood reports

June 5, 2008

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
  %Benchmark
1University of Oxford9.817.9
2University of Cambridge11.519.2
3University of Bristol14.321.0
4Durham University 15.020.9
5Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance15.3.9
6University of Edinburgh15.721.4
7University of St Andrews15.720.2
8University of Exeter16.723.9
9University of York16.820.8
10University of Nottingham17.422.5
Institutions with highest proportion of students from low socioeconomic groups. Young full-time undergraduate entrants, 2006-07
  %Benchmark
1Harper Adams University College58.439.1
2St Mary’s University College52.433.6
3University of Wolverhampton51.639.6
4Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies 49.940.5
5University of Bradford49.035.5
6University of Teesside48.638.3
7University of Sunderland48.036.8
8Bell College*47.937.3
9Middlesex University47.539.2
10University of Ulster47.236.0
* 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.

This was followed by the University of Cambridge, with 11.5 per cent, the University of Bristol, with 14.3 per cent, and Durham University, with 15 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.

It was followed by St Mary's University College (52.4 per cent), the University of Wolverhampton (51.6 per cent) and Birmingham College of Food, Tourism and Creative Studies (49.9 per cent).

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."

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com.

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