Milburn tells universities to put ‘shoulders to the wheel’ on access

The abolition of student number controls presents a “unique opportunity” to increase the number of poorer students going into higher education.

October 20, 2014

Alan Milburn, the former Labour minister who chairs the coalition government’s social mobility commission, makes the argument in the commission’s latest annual report, published today.

Mr Milburn says that universities should aim to admit 5,000 more young people on free school meals by 2020 (a 39 per cent increase) and that Russell Group universities should aim to admit 3,000 more students from state schools each year by the same point (an increase of 7 per cent).

Meanwhile, Labour shadow equalities minister Gloria De Piero has said the civil service should consider the use of “blind CV programmes”, where the name of the university attended by the candidate is not stated.

Mr Milburn’s report says: “From 2015 there will be no restrictions on how many students universities can recruit. Removing the cap presents a unique opportunity to diversify the student population across all universities and recruit students from under represented backgrounds.”

The report, titled State of the Nation 2014: Social Mobility and Child Poverty in Great Britain, says a 5,000 increase in free school meal pupils attending university is achievable if universities “put their shoulders to the wheel”.

It adds: “And if a similar effort was made by Russell Group universities in England they could, by 2020, be within touching distance of becoming truly representative of those who have the grades to enter by admitting 3,000 more students from state schools each year (an increase of 7 per cent) and 1,400 more students from working-class backgrounds (an increase of 12 per cent).”

The report adds that it is to be hoped universities will “divert a growing proportion of Widening Participation funding – set to rise to £735 million in 2015 – to develop more long-term relationships with state schools since the evidence suggests that this is the best means of encouraging poorer students into higher education”.

And it continues: “We also look to universities to make much more assertive, rapid and transparent adoption of contextual admission procedures including making lower entry offers for students who have done well at A-level from poorly performing schools.”

Writing in the Guardian, Ms De Piero notes the low number of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering the civil service’s graduate recruitment schemes. She says the civil service must “examine comparable graduate schemes outside the public sector, and ask themselves not just why they are currently getting their fast stream recruitment processes wrong, but how others are managing to get them right”.

She adds: “Law firm Clifford Chance has introduced a blind CV programme whereby applicants are not asked where they studied but instead for an essay demonstrating what they can do. As a result, the number of successful candidates who were the first in their families to attend university has risen sharply.”

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