Top universities largely ignore further education colleges as undergraduate recruitment grounds and may be too focused on research priorities to be engaged sufficiently in widening participation, writes Alan Thomson.
MPs heard on Wednesday that just 5 per cent of applicants to Oxford and Cambridge come from further education colleges despite these institutions producing about a third of all A-level holders. Colleges supply about 40 per cent of all higher education entrants.
John Brennan, director of further education development for the Association of Colleges, told the education select committee: "I do not think there is a great effort by Oxford and Cambridge to target colleges in that way."
Mr Brennan said that this in turn could reinforce negative perceptions of institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge. The result could be to convince young people that they will not fit in to such apparently distant academic worlds.
Neil Hopkins, principal at Peter Symonds Sixth Form College and a member of the AoC, said the lack of effort made by top institutions to widen participation could be because of these universities focusing on research rather than teaching.
Mr Hopkins also said that universities were too much of a closed world. He said there was a pressing need for more information on areas such as teaching quality and degree success rates. He said that at present applicants were essentially "shooting blind".
Meanwhile, Conservative MP Nick St Aubyn (Guildford) received an apology from committee chairman Barry Sheerman (Labour Huddersfield) for the harsh tone of a rebuke he issued to Mr St Aubyn last week.
The row began when Mr Sheerman tried to stop Mr St Aubyn asking questions relating to chancellor Gordon Brown's comments about university elitism.