Leading UK universities going backwards on state school access

Durham, Imperial College and St Andrews all had a smaller share of first years from state schools in 2017-18 than Cambridge

February 8, 2019
St Andrews University

The proportion of state school leavers among UK university entrants has fallen for the first time in seven years, as some selective institutions slipped backwards on widening access.

According to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, 89.8 per cent of bachelor’s degree entrants in 2017-18 were educated at state school, a fall of 0.2 percentage points from an all-time high of 90 per cent the year before.

Although the fall is small, and may be just a blip amid a general 20-year trend of growth in the share of state school entrants, underlying figures show that some of the most selective universities saw bigger drops in their intake from the state sector.

Among the Russell Group institutions recording a fall in their share of first years from state schools were the University of Exeter (down 3.5 percentage points to 65.9 per cent), Imperial College London (down 1.9 percentage points to 61.6 per cent) and Durham University (down 1.6 percentage points to 61.3 per cent).

However, the biggest fall among selective universities was at the University of St Andrews, which is not part of the Russell Group, where the share of entrants from state schools fell 4 percentage points to 60.4 per cent.

Durham, Imperial and St Andrews all had a smaller share of first years from state school in 2017-18 than the University of Cambridge (up 0.8 percentage points to 63.4 per cent), although the University of Oxford remained the institution with the smallest share (up 0.5 percentage points to 58.2 per cent).

Four other Russell Group universities increased their share of first years from state schools by 2 percentage points: UCL (now 69.7 per cent of entrants from the state sector), King’s College London (77.7 per cent), Newcastle University (76.7 per cent) and the University of Manchester (84.6 per cent).

When measured against universities’ benchmarks for state school entrants, which take account of entry grades and subject studied, 16 universities (not including specialist institutions) are significantly below their expected level, including 10 from the Russell Group.

But the institution that is statistically furthest from its benchmark remains Oxford Brookes University, which saw its share of first years from state schools fall by almost 4 percentage points to 70.2 per cent (against a benchmark of 90.9 per cent).


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