The University of Warwick has announced plans to lower its entry requirements by up to four A-level grades for local disadvantaged students in a bid to widen access.
Warwick said that it expected to make 500 offers each year to students who come from deprived or underrepresented backgrounds and live within a 30-mile radius of its main campus, under the Warwick Scholars programme.
Warwick’s standard entry requirements vary by subject but range from A*AA to ABB. The new programme means that selected students will be entitled to enrol on an A*AA course with grades of BBB instead. For ABB courses, students with CCC would be eligible.
Participating students will also be offered a 50 per cent tuition fee discount and a means-tested bursary of up to £2,000 annually. They will also be entitled to apply for other support which could increase the total value of the bursary to £5,000 each year.
The Warwick Scholars programme, which will cost £10 million annually, was announced after the English regulator warned that reducing entry requirements by one or two grades would not be sufficient to hit access targets. The Office for Students suggested that highly selective universities such as Warwick could let disadvantaged students in with grades of BCC “without a marked fall in academic standards”.
Stuart Croft, Warwick’s vice-chancellor, said that Warwick Scholars would be a “truly transformational social mobility programme”.
“By focusing on our local region we not only give something significant back to our community, it is also one of the most effective ways of targeting and reaching young people who have the ability to benefit from a leading university but face other social or economic barriers,” he said.
To be selected for the programme, students will have to be identified by teachers and advisers as being able to succeed at Warwick, and will have to meet an eligibility criterion based on their GCSE grades. The scheme will be open to students at state schools and colleges only, who will have to meet at least two other criteria from a list that includes attending an underperforming school, receiving free school meals, living in a neighbourhood that produces few university students, or having “significant extenuating circumstances”.
During their time in sixth form, selected students will benefit from mentoring and tuition from Warwick undergraduates, and residentials, including a pre-exam boot camp.
Warwick said it intended to identify its first, smaller cohort this summer, ahead of entry in 2020. Eventually there will be at least 1,500 scholars on campus each year.
The university’s move comes after the headmaster of Stowe School, which charges fees of £12,000 a term, complained that private school pupils were being edged out of places at the universities of Oxford and Cambridge by “social engineering”. In an interview with The Times, Anthony Wallersteiner likened the treatment of private school pupils to the Nazis’ persecution of Jews.
Paul Blagburn, Warwick’s head of widening participation, said that the university was “dedicated to removing educational, social and economic barriers”.
“We will work in partnership with local schools to ensure that targeted students that have demonstrated academic ability, often in challenging circumstances, reach their full potential,” he said.
Academics and university leaders will discuss university access and how institutions can play an effective role in creating a more inclusive society at Times Higher Education’s Teaching Excellence Summit, which is taking place at Western University, in London, Ontario, Canada, from 4-6 June 2019.