Nearly 90 per cent of young, full-time undergraduates in UK higher education now come from state schools, according to new figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa).
The latest Hesa data show that in the 2015-16 academic year, 89.9 per cent of first-degree entrants were from a state school background, up fractionally from 89.8 per cent in 2014-15. However, the percentage of students coming from areas of the UK where participation in higher education is low fell last year from 11.4 per cent to 11.3 per cent.
The data also show which institutions are accepting high numbers of state school students and which are not. The institutions in the following tables are those that have the lowest and the highest proportion of state school entrants when institutions with fewer than 1,000 full-time, first-degree entrants are excepted. The tables also show each institution’s benchmark figure, which indicates the sort of value that might be expected for each provider.
Some of the UK’s most prestigious institutions continue to lag behind the rest of the sector in accepting state school students, with eight of the 10 institutions with the smallest cohorts of state school entrants coming from the Russell Group.
Overall, the University of Oxford had the lowest proportion of entrants from state schools, with 55.7 per cent. The University of St Andrews’ proportion of state school entrants was one percentage point higher, and Durham University (60.5 per cent) completed the bottom three.
At the University of Bristol, 61.4 per cent of entrants for 2015-16 were from state schools; marginally better was the University of Cambridge, which had 61.9 per cent. Imperial College London (65.5 per cent), University College London (68.4 per cent), and the universities of Exeter (68.5 per cent) and Edinburgh (69.7 per cent) were the other Russell Group institutions in the list, with Oxford Brookes University (72.9) completing the bottom 10.
At the other end of the scale, it is mainly modern universities that continue to show high levels of state school entrants, although way out in front is Ulster University, 100 per cent of whose students were from state school backgrounds.
Elsewhere, other devolved nation institutions had a strong showing, with the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (98.9 per cent) and the University of the West of Scotland (98.7 per cent) among those with the highest percentages. The entire top 10 had proportions of state school students above 98.7 per cent, with four universities recruiting more than 99 per cent of full-time, first-degree entrants from the state sector. The leading English university was Liverpool Hope University, where 99.4 per cent of its entrants were from state schools.
Commenting on the Hesa data, a spokesman for the Russell Group claimed that their universities have collectively “outperformed the sector as a whole in increasing the percentage of students from state school backgrounds”, but noted that there was “more that needs to be done”.
“This is why Russell Group universities in England alone will this year invest £254 million in scholarships, fee waivers, bursaries and outreach activities aimed at the most disadvantaged to help those with the ability to attend,” he said.
“We recently launched Advancing Access, an online platform that provides a wide range of vital resources for teachers to help them give talented pupils the support and encouragement they need to apply to a leading university. We are committed to ensuring that students who would benefit from an education at one of our institutions have the best possible opportunity to do so, regardless of their background.”
Les Ebdon, director of fair access to higher education, agreed that universities with the highest entrance requirements have “on the whole made significant progress in increasing the rates of students from disadvantaged backgrounds entering their institutions”.
“I recognise that they still have a long way to go to ensure that everyone with the talent to benefit from higher education is able to take the opportunity, whatever their background,” he said.
“In my forthcoming guidance to universities, I will be setting out specific, challenging expectations for these institutions. In particular, I will be asking them to strengthen their work with schools to raise attainment, which is a crucial way they can increase participation from the most disadvantaged young people.”