‘Not for the likes of us’

Poorer students are missing out on places at top universities, a study suggests. Rebecca Attwood reports

August 12, 2009

Thousands of bright state-school students are missing out on places at the most selective universities despite having the appropriate A-level results, a study has found.

Pupils from top independent schools make twice as many applications to leading research universities as their peers from comprehensive schools with similar grades, according to research by education charity the Sutton Trust and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

And application rates from further education colleges to the top universities are less than half those seen from other types of school, even after differences in attainment are taken into account.

However, those who have a go stand an equal chance of acceptance: young people with similar attainment who do apply to demanding degree courses are equally likely to get an offer, regardless of the type of school or college they attend.

If university participation patterns were equal, more than 4,500 additional state-school students could enter the 500 courses with the most demanding entry standards each year, the study, published on 12 August, suggests.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust, said the results showed the need for a system that allows all students to apply to university after their A-level results.

“This research shows that even with the right grades in the right A-level subjects, thousands of state-school students each year do not apply to the most academically selective degree courses.

“Many highly able pupils from non-privileged backgrounds wrongly perceive the most prestigious universities as ‘not for the likes of us’, and often lack the support and guidance to overcome this misconception,” he said.

“As well as underlining the continued need for outreach activities such as summer schools, with A-level results being published next week this timely research provides yet another compelling reason to reform the university application system.”

Students should be able to apply to higher education on the basis of their actual results rather than predicted grades, which can be inaccurate, Sir Peter added.

“This simple step towards post-qualification applications would give many non-privileged students the confidence to aim that little bit higher.”

The research examined information on hundreds of thousands of students using application data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service and the National Pupil Database.

rebecca.attwood@tsleducation.com

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