Oxford and Cambridge overtake rivals on state school intake

About seven in 10 Oxbridge entrants now come from state sector, in a marked uptick

February 23, 2022
2015 boat race on the Thames between Oxford and Cambridge
Source: Alexander Jung/iStock

About 70 per cent of new undergraduates at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge came from state schools in the past academic year, believed to be the first time the share has reached such a level at both institutions.

According to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, Oxford has seen a huge jump in its share of state school entrants, from just 56 per cent in 2015 to 69 per cent in 2020, while Cambridge’s percentage has risen from 62 per cent to 70 per cent over the same period.

Both universities, which have faced criticism in the past for their high private school intakes, now have higher entrant shares from state schools than almost half a dozen other large institutions.

For instance, Durham University had the lowest share of new entrants from the state sector at 62 per cent, followed by the universities of St Andrews (63 per cent), Edinburgh (65 per cent), and Exeter (66 per cent), Imperial College London (66 per cent) and UCL (68 per cent).

Meanwhile, another university that was among the institutions with the lowest state school intake five years ago, the University of Bristol, has seem a similar rise to Oxford and Cambridge, from 61 per cent to 73 per cent from 2015 to 2020.

Data on entrants for 2020-21 could have been influenced by the unusual admissions round in the summer of 2020, when the government made the decision after the publication of A-level results to accept teacher-assessed grades, leading to bumper admissions at selective institutions.

However, the share of state school entrants at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge had already been climbing in the years before the pandemic, suggesting that it could also reflect policies at individual Oxbridge colleges on access.

In keeping with some of the most selective universities, however, both universities are still short of their “benchmarks” for state school share, a figure that adjusts sector averages for entry grades and subject mix: both have a benchmark state school intake of 76 per cent.

Among large universities, the institution that still has one of the largest gaps between its benchmark and actual state school intake is Oxford Brookes University, where 71 per cent came from the state sector against a benchmark of 92 per cent.

Overall, 90 per cent of young undergraduates starting courses in 2020-21 were from state schools or colleges, a similar level to the year before. However, the data show that this varies considerably depending on the region the students are from.

For instance, for Londoners, the share of new entrants from state schools was 87 per cent, compared with 95 per cent for those from the North West and 99 per cent for students from Northern Ireland.


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Reader's comments (3)

While it is good to see an increase in students from the state sector, it would be useful to see which state Schools successful entrants to Oxbridge are coming from. Not all state schools are created equal. Has the number of state schools from which successful applicants apply from increased, or are the same state schools doing better? If the latter, then this increase in students numbers from the state sector is misleading in terms of greater equality if the same state schools that have done well in the past are continuing to do well.
This is not just an ‘equality’ issue and even if the students come from a very small number of state schools it is a huge success. This is because it demonstrates that money doesn’t necessarily buy you a place at Oxbridge.
What LeeW said. It does matter because of the catchment areas of the schools (their socio-economic environment) and also whether they are selective schools.