Milburn: Russell Group not doing enough on access

The proportion of students entering Russell Group universities who are state-educated has fallen in the last decade, a report from a government commission on social mobility has said.

June 17, 2013

According to the report from the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, there were also 126 fewer students from the most socially disadvantaged backgrounds at such institutions in 2011-12 compared with 2002-03.

The analysis – entitled Higher Education – The Fair Access Challenge - says that there are an estimated 3,700 state-educated students “missing” from Russell Group universities in England.

It adds that the most selective universities are not setting ambitious enough targets to close the “fair access gap”.

The report states that even if every Russell Group institution in England meets its own targets on access for 2016-17, it would only reduce the number of “missing” state-educated students by a quarter.

The data form part of a “six months on” progress report by the commission, following up on its chair Alan Milburn’s report on university access as Independent Reviewer on Social Mobility.

In the latest report, the commission makes a series of recommendations to universities and the government, including setting clear statistical targets for improving fair access and asking for more use of contextual data in admissions.

Mr Milburn said: “It is clear that there is an increasing determination on the part of our universities to do their bit in creating a Britain that is more socially mobile. But we cannot be complacent: there is a long way to go to ensure that there is fair access to our best universities. They need to up their game.”

Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said that while it accepted the commission’s figures “for the specific dates they have chosen to highlight”, numbers did fluctuate from year to year.

“Looking back at the period from 1997-98 to 2010-11, there was an increase in the proportion of students from state schools enrolling at Russell Group institutions from 69.5 per cent in 1997-98 to 74.7 per cent in 2010-11,” she said.

“Of course more progress must be made and, as the commission acknowledges, universities are battling to overcome the fair access challenge.

“But the many and varied factors which lead to the under-representation of students from disadvantaged background cannot be solved by universities alone. Ultimately too few students from some state schools get the right grades in the right subjects and even those who do are less likely to apply to leading universities.”

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Reader's comments (1)

While the data seemingly illustrates the disturbing disproportional performance of State sector schools (approx £5k per capita allocation p.a.) compared to the Private Independent schools (£12k to 35k fees per capita p.a and drawing from a narrow advantaged social stream), in getting their expected share of students into the Russell group universities ie. typically the liberal arts, sciences and medicine. The problem will perhaps become even more acute as the rapidly growing numbers of well qualified students emerging from (the better resourced and partly selective) UTCs and specialist technology Academy schools, require access to highly ranked technical-type Universities - so far a relatively weak category in the UK spectrum of HEI groupings.

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