Oxford targets students from state schools

The university is aiming to recruit one in four of its successful UK applicants from a list of 2,276 schools and colleges
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The Independent Online

Oxford hopes to boost its numbers of pupils from more than 2,000 state schools with a history of failing to get their brightest and most talented youngsters into the university.

It has set itself the target of recruiting one in four of its successful UK applicants from a list of 2,276 schools and 96 colleges which have a poor record of applying to or securing a place at the university.

This is despite, over a three-year period, producing up to 30 youngsters who achieve the university's entry requirement of three grade A passes at A-level.

Oxford's drive follows a report last week which revealed that just five schools and colleges in the UK had more successful Oxbridge applicants over three years than the 2,000 schools with the poorest record on admissions.

Oxford's access agreement with the Office for Fair Access, the independent regulator, published yesterday alongside those of all 123 higher education institutions in England, describes the figure as "challenging". It rejects the idea of setting targets for recruiting specific percentages of state school pupils as "misleading".

"There are students from relatively wealthy backgrounds at state schools and students from relatively disadvantaged ones at independent schools," it says. "One third (around 410) of the current holders of the full Oxford Opportunity Bursary (available to students with a household income of less than £25,000) were educated in the independent sector."

The country's leading universities spell out their plans to recruit youngsters from disadvantaged neighbourhoods in their access agreements.

However, Bristol said it wanted to achieve its aims by expanding the number of students it takes in to avoid reducing the number of recruits from more affluent suburbs.

Meanwhile, Cambridge University is warning that next year it will be "demanding" just to stick to the present level of recruitment from the poorest communities.

This is as a result of so many youngsters applying a year earlier in order to miss the first year of the new fees structure. However, it is planning to increase the number of those applying from low participation neighbourhoods by nearly 30 per cent over four years – from 3.1 per cent of recruits to four per cent.

In addition, it wants to increase the percentage of successful state applications to "between 61 and 63 per cent" from its present level of 59.3 per cent over the same period.

What universities have promised

The country's most selective universities have all pledged to sign up more students from disadvantaged backgrounds – many through recruitment to summer schools giving youngsters an early taste of university.

In Oxford's case, they plan to double the number of summer school places to 1,000 by 2014.

Newcastle aims for a 50 per cent increase in the number of students from areas where few youngsters go to university – from 8 per cent to 12 per cent – over the next four years.

Liverpool's target is to increase the percentage from 8.7 per cent to 9.7 per cent.

Youngsters from the more affluent suburbs might find it more difficult to get a place as a result. The exception to this is Bristol where they plan to increase student numbers.

However, the newly targeted recruits will have to have the right qualifications – such as three straight A grades at A-level – to gain a place. It is just that in the past they may not have applied, possibly because their teachers have not encouraged them to go for universities like Oxford and Cambridge.

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