Poorer students 18 times less likely to go to university


Analysis suggests that children from wealthy areas of the country are 18 times more likely to go to university than those from the poorest parts of England.

Charity Teach First compared university participation rates with child poverty figures and found a clear connection between the two sets of data.

Universities Minister Jo Johnson said the figures were improving.

“Recent UCAS data shows that young people from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to go to university than ever before, but we agree there is more to do,” said Mr Johnson.

Figures from the Higher Education Funding Council for England were used, with the study highlighting the area of Shirebrook in Derbyshire, which saw only 4.8 per cent of young people starting university in 2015.

This figure is in the stark contrast with young people from Gerrards Cross North in Buckinghamshire, which had the highest level of university entrants with 87.2 per cent of young people going to university.

The researchers found that, on average, the poorest 10 per cent of postcodes in the country had around 20 per cent of young people starting university, compared to around 50 per cent of young people in the wealthiest 10 per cent of postcodes.

The report suggests that that young people from less financially secure backgrounds are being held back by a number of obstacles to social mobility.

Figures from the Office of Fair Access to Higher Education (OFFA) state that £725m was spent by universities in England to try and help disadvantaged students gain access to university education, but this report questions the effectiveness of these measures.

The report suggests that a proportion of this money should be used to target those in the poorest areas of the country, with schemes being put in place to encourage university participation in primary schools. It is also suggested that teachers should be encouraged to take positions in low-achieving areas, in return for a proportion of their student loans being forgiven.

Teach First chief executive Brett Wigdortz said that “for those that choose that path, [university] gives them a huge range of social, cultural and economic benefits and, for the time being it’s still the gateway for most high-status professions.

“However, today there are still far too few disadvantaged pupils getting to university and completing their degree.”

Prof Les Ebdon, Director of OFFA said: “The grades young people get at school have a huge impact on their ability to access higher education. So it is a real cause for concern that the gap in attainment between pupils from different backgrounds can be seen from such a young age.”

Mr Johnson said the government’s higher education reforms aimed to ensure that universities “look beyond just access – and focus on attainment, retention rates and readiness for the world of work.
“This includes a new duty requiring universities to publish data broken down by background, to shine a light on where more must be done to tackle inequality.

“The Teaching Excellence Framework will also explicitly look at how they are achieving positive outcomes for disadvantaged students.”