Working class still lags on campus

January 20, 2006

There was little change in the proportion of people from working-class backgrounds accepted on to higher education courses last year, data released this week show.

Despite efforts by the Government and institutions to widen participation in higher education, the proportion of applicants for entry in 2005 who were from families in "routine" (formerly "unskilled") occupations and in lower supervisory and technical jobs fell slightly compared with the previous year. There was only a very small rise in the proportion from families in "semi-routine" (formerly "semi-skilled") jobs.

The figures bode badly for next year's applications figures, which will be the first to show the impact of the introduction of top-up fees on the willingness of working-class people to accumulate significant debt in order to get a degree.

Boris Johnson, the Shadow Minister for Higher Education, called on the Government to do more to attract people from poor backgrounds into higher education, but without bullying universities. He told The Times Higher:

"These figures seem to show no movement in the proportion from less well-off backgrounds applying. Although this indicates that we must try harder to attract such applications, the Government must resist the temptation to go down the route of more hectoring and coercion of institutions."

The data from the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service show that while the number of people entering higher education from families with routine jobs grew from 19,358 in 2004 to 20,392 last year, as a proportion of total entrants this group saw a fall from 4.68 per cent to 4.59 per cent. Entrants from families with lower supervisory and technical jobs fell as a proportion from 3.88 per cent to 3.68 per cent.

The figures are a final tally from Ucas for entry in autumn last year. They show a 7.4 per cent overall increase in the number of applicants accepted, which rose to 405,369 and broke the 400,000 mark for the first time.

One possible sign of the top-up fees effect was a 9.2 per cent rise in the number of applicants accepted on a deferred basis. Students taking a gap year before starting studies this autumn avoid top-ups. The number of overseas students accepted on to courses rose by 4.3 per cent, but the increase was just 2.8 per cent for students from outside the European Union.

This overall rise masks dramatic falls from certain countries. The number of applications from China dropped by 22.8 per cent and from Ghana by 45.5 per cent. Acceptances from Nigeria, however, shot up by nearly 70 per cent.

The data shows foundation degrees continuing to grow, with acceptances up by 41.3 per cent. Acceptances on higher national diploma courses, many of which are being replaced by foundation degrees, fell by 17.2 per cent.

* Ucas has launched a new service on its website that will allow students to compare scholarship and bursary offers in different institutions by subject area. The service is designed to complement the application process.

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