Selective universities should reserve a proportion of places for local working-class students in order to improve access to higher education for disadvantaged young people, according to recommendations made in a new report.
The research published by social mobility charity the Sutton Trust highlights a growing class divide between university students, with those from the poorest backgrounds over three times more likely to live at home while studying than their most advantaged peers (44.9 per cent compared with 13.1 per cent).
Meanwhile, former state school students are two and a half times more likely to live at home compared to those who went to a private school, while British Pakistani and British Bangladeshi students are over six times more likely than white students to stay living at home.
Analysing student numbers from 2014-15 – the first academic year since tuition fees were raised to more than £9,000 – researchers found that the majority of young people chose to stay within their local area. Some 55.8 per cent of students under the age of 20 attended a university less than 55 miles away from their home address, while just one in 10 students travelled more than 150 miles way from home for their studies.
The report, Home and Away: social, ethnic and spatial inequalities in student mobility, says that “moving to London, or other large cities in the UK, can be an ‘escalator’ for social mobility. But too often, the opportunity to move away to attend university is restricted to those from better off homes".
While a variety of factors, including family finances and culture, can play a part in a student’s decision not to move into student accommodation, geographical limitations could also be preventing thousands of young people from being able to attend the country's most prestigious institutions, the charity warns.
At the University of Wolverhampton, Glasgow Caledonian University and City University of London, for example, well over 50 per cent of students still live at home. In other "peripheral elite" universities such as the University of St Andrews or Durham University, long-distance re-location for study is the norm, according to the research.
The report’s authors highlighted that those who do tend to move furthest away from home comprise of “socially, ethnically and geographically distinct groups”.
Michael Donnelly, lecturer and research leader in the Department of Education at the University of Bath – who led the study – said the “traditional view” of moving out of the family home to attend a university of choice was still “very much the preserve of white, middle class and privately educated young people from the south of England”.
“Whilst moving away is not for everyone, some of the most disadvantaged young people could be being prevented from accessing new opportunities and social networks further afield, or developing important life skills through living independently – further damaging chances for social mobility,” he added.
Separate figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that the number of full-time undergraduate and postgraduate students living in their parental or guardian home in 2016-17 rose to more than 338,000, up 2.8 per cent on the previous academic year.
Sir Peter Lampl, founder and chairman of the Sutton Trust and chairman of the Education Endowment Foundation, said the social mobility gap had become “more pronounced” for some groups since the introduction of tuition fees of £9,000 per year in 2012.
“[This means] that for students living at home, access to the most selective universities is limited,” he said. “They are likely to miss out on wider university activities that improve their essential life skills.”
As well as calling on selective universities to consider reserving a proportion of places for local working-class students, the Sutton Trust report recommends that institutions consider more flexible timetabling of lectures in cases where there are large increases in student commuters. It also urges the English higher education funding review to reintroduce maintenance grants and ensure that student loans are available “in a form that would enable Muslim students to borrow money in accordance with their religious beliefs”.