Social divisions traced in old binary divide

February 12, 1999

New statistics onstudents from poorer backgrounds in higher education show huge variations betweeninstitutions, writes Harriet Swain.

Research by Bob Osborne, professor of applied policy studies at Ulster University, shows relatively little difference between numbers of young students from each social class choosing to study sub-degrees rather than degrees and few variations between classes in choice ofsubject, although higher classes do dominate medicine and dentistry.

But it reveals starkdifferences between the number of applications and acceptances from the bottom two social groups to new and old universities, with newuniversities attracting significantly more. A handful of institutions are said to stand out as attracting way above or below the average.

Professor Osborne also found major differences between England, Scotland, NorthernIreland and Wales.

Particularly noticeable was the low rate of acceptance for Northern Irish students of all social classes. While all other UK institutions accepted about 83 per cent from the top social class and about 71 or 72 per cent from the bottom, the acceptance rate fell to under 78 per cent for the top social class in Northern Ireland and under 66 per cent for the bottom.

Publication of Professor Osborne's report, due late last year, has been delayed because of disputes over figures for Scotland that show its institutions accept a lower proportion of working-class students than elsewhere, as reported in The THES (January 29).

Professor Osborne called for the University and Colleges Admissions Service to reveal the identities of individual universities in their statistics. UCAS is now investigating this possibility.

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