Non-participation extends far further than Oxbridge

June 2, 2000

All top universities in the United Kingdom must overhaul their admissions systems to give pupils from poor backgrounds a fair chance, a report from the Sutton Trust will say next week.

Drawing on performance indicators from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the trust will show that problems of participation reach further than Oxbridge. It will say pupils from state schools, poorer social classes and deprived areas are under-represented by up to a third at the 13 British universities ranked most highly for teaching and research by newspaper league tables.

The Sutton Trust is an independent charity started in 1987 by Peter Lampl to extend educational opportunities for young people from non-privileged backgrounds.

Mr Lampl, who was awarded an OBE in this year's New Year's Honours list, has met politicians, including chancellor Gordon Brown and deputy prime minister John Prescott, in the past few weeks - before the controversy over Laura Spence erupted - to express his concern about the representation of people from poorer backgrounds at some universities.

According to the Hefce data, in 1997-98, 39 per cent of people at the top 13 universities came from private schools, compared with a benchmark of 28 per cent. Just 13 per cent were from the bottom three social classes, compared with a benchmark of 17 per cent and just 6 per cent were from low-participation areas, compared with an 8 per cent benchmark.

At the top five universities - Cambridge, Imperial, Oxford, London School of Economics and University College London - the gap between benchmark and reality was wider, with 48 per cent rather than the recommended 33 per cent from private schools, 10 per cent rather than 14 per cent from the lowest social classes and 5 per cent rather than 8 per cent from low-participation areas.

While the figures have improved slightly since the data was collected, the trust says more still needs to be done.

Its report, published on Monday, will recommend steps to make university admissions fairer. These include appointing more recruitment officers and talent-spotters, based on the system at Harvard, which has about 50 people dedicated to recruiting students.

It will also call for moving the A-level timetable so that students are considered for university after they get their results. Another suggestion, already being piloted by the trust, is to introduce scholastic aptitude tests.

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