Class fear deters university entries

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The Independent Online
WORKING-CLASS sixth-formers are put off applying to Britain's top-rated universities because they do not believe they will "fit in" with traditional academic life, shows research to be published next month.

Even those predicted to get top A-level grades were worried about becoming social misfits in traditional higher education, said the study by academics at King's College London, City University and the Institute for Education. The survey of 500 sixth-formers also found many working-class students were worried about the high cost of studying away from home.

But teenagers from middle-class households felt at home in prestigious traditional universities and often did not consider studying anywhere else.

The research, to be presented at the British Educational Research Association conference next month, shows efforts to increase the number of young people going to higher education have failed to break traditional class barriers.

"At times the affluent middle- class students and the poor working class students sound worlds apart," says the report.

One working-class student refused a place at Cambridge. He said: "It was a complete shock, different from anywhere else I have ever been. It was too traditional, too old-fashioned, from another time altogether. I didn't like it at all."

But a middle-class sixth former told the team: "I don't think I could actually get on with people if they got very bad grades and then got into a bad university, due to the simple class of persons there, bottom of the intellect who deserved to be there academically." The research demonstrates the extent of the Government's task in trying to open access to higher education. Ministers have played down fears of the impact of university tuition fees of up to pounds 1,025 and pledged millions of pounds to open higher education to people from deprived backgrounds.

An extra 100,000 university places will be created before the next election and universities which attract students from low income backgrounds stand to gain extra funding.

The study said althoughmore working-class and minority ethnic students are entering university they are entering different universities to middle- class counterparts.

"The expansion of higher education has been of greatest benefit to the off-spring of the middle classes," said the study. Researchers warned that "the inequalities arising from lack of information and general perplexity and confusion about post-compulsory education among working class families of 40 years ago have, in the new Labour era, been compounded by the introduction of fees and loans and the abolition of maintenance grants."

John Dunford, general secretary of the Secondary Heads Association, said: "It's not just for Oxford and Cambridge, universities have to work hard to build up a better socio-economic range in their undergraduate population."

The Universities and Colleges Admissions Service said there had been a slight increase in the number of working class teenagers applying to university. But individuals from wealthy backgrounds were still 12 times more likely to go to university than those from poor households.

Leading article, Review, page 3