A study by the Sutton Trust which examines the backgrounds of prospective parliamentary candidates who were felt to have a reasonable possibility of victory says that 19 per cent have a degree from the universities of Oxford or Cambridge, compared with less than 1 per cent of the population at large.
Some 55 per cent attended a Russell Group university, including Oxford or Cambridge, compared with 11 per cent of all UK adults. Only one in 10 have no degree, compared with 62 per cent nationwide.
The research, which is based on the university backgrounds of 209 would-be MPs, concludes that the next parliament is unlikely to be significantly more diverse than the current one, in which 24 per cent of MPs have Oxbridge degrees. Fifty-four per cent of serving MPs have a Russell Group education, and 17 per cent have no degree.
The diversity of perspectives within government “considerably narrows” if the majority of MPs share the same experience of education at an elite university, according to the report, Parliamentary Privilege.
It adds that, while it is “reasonable” to expect political leaders to be “generally more highly educated than the average”, the prevalence of Oxford and Cambridge degrees is particularly concerning, since these institutions accept relative few students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
“This research shows that the next House of Commons is unlikely to reflect any more social diversity than the current crop of MPs,” said Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust. “It underlines the importance of enabling bright young people from low and middle income backgrounds to get to the best schools and universities if they are to have a chance to play a part in making the decisions that affect all of our lives.”
The report, published on 5 February, also breaks down the educational backgrounds of prospective MPs by political party.
Conservative candidates have the most elite university education, with 28 per cent having gone to Oxford or Cambridge and 68 per cent having gone to a Russell Group institution. For Labour, the figures are 18 per cent and 56 per cent respectively.
However, only 3 per cent of the 38 UK Independence Party candidates who were felt to have a reasonable possibility of victory had an Oxbridge background, with 29 per cent having graduated from a Russell Group university.
Thirty-five per cent of possible Ukip MPs had no degree at all, compared with 10 per cent for the Tories, and 5 per cent for Labour.
The report also finds that 31 per cent of all likely MPs were privately educated, compared with 7 per cent of the population at large.