Student cities skew the data

March 17, 2006

New universities in the same cities as elite Russell Group institutions have much lower intakes of students from working-class backgrounds than other former polytechnics, it has been revealed, writes Chloe Stothart.

The phenomenon suggests that middle-class students are attracted to cities with more than one university, says the author of the research.

The trend emerged in work for the Russell Group's widening participation group, which aims to improve entry of poor students to large research universities.

Geoff Layer, pro vice-chancellor at Bradford University, said: "The universities performing below the mean [for new universities as a whole] are still doing a lot of work on widening participation, but we are seeing the attractiveness of big cities and the attractiveness of student cities."

In 2002-03, for example, on average, 37 per cent of young undergraduates at new universities came from poor backgrounds.

This compared with 26 per cent of undergraduates at the University of the West of England, 29 per cent at Sheffield Hallam University, 30 per cent at Northumbria University and 31 per cent at Nottingham Trent University and Leeds Metropolitan University.

The effect was less extreme at Manchester Metropolitan University and Liverpool John Moores University, which had participation rates of 36 and 33 per cent respectively. The University of Central England did better than the average new university, with 41 per cent of its undergraduates drawn from poor groups.

The average rate across all universities was per cent. Professor Layer said the message was not to assume that all new universities would perform the same way in terms of widening access.

He said he had left London, Oxford and Cambridge universities out of the study as they were special cases. The research is part of a wider report on access trends for the Russell Group.

A spokeswoman for UWE responded that almost half its students come from nearby towns and cities, which have a relatively low number of deprived neighbourhoods.

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