Postcode lottery still determines degree achievement

A “postcode lottery” still determines whether a youngster is likely to get a university degree or not, according to a report out today.

The gap between the percentage of people gaining degrees in the country’s most disadvantaged areas and those living in more affluent suburbs nearby is widening, says the analysis.

The report studies degree performance in 21 inner city areas on a Parliamentary constituency basis.

It shows, for instance, that two out of three people living in Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam constituency had a degree - and only three per cent had no qualifications at all.

Just down the road in former Cabinet minister David Blunkett’s constituency only 15 per cent have a degree while 23 per cent have no qualifications at all.

Mr Clegg’s constituency is in the more affluent suburbs of the city while Mr Blunkett’s serves the city centre.

In the 20 constituencies with the lowest level of participation in higher education last year, the proportion of the working age population with a degree-level qualification or above fell from 12.6 per cent to 12.1 per cent in the three years from 2005.

By contrast, the figures for the 20 constituencies with the highest level of participation show a rise from 48.8 per cent to 57.2 per cent in 2008.

The analysis was carried out by the UCU, the university and college lecturers’ union, whose general secretary Sally Hunt said: “Education holds the key to improving social mobility, tackling poverty and extending opportunity for all.

“Those with the greatest access to qualifications tend to be healthier, wealthier and more active citizens.

“Yet, as this report shows, the current divide between the haves and have nots is growing with where you live largely determining your chance to educational success.”

There are signs, though, that the picture may be about to change.

A report to be published later this month, details of which have been given to The Independent, shows there has been a significant increase in the number of people from disadvantaged families going to university with 18.5 per cent of those from the two poorest income groups seeking a place last year compared with just 13.5 per cent a decade previously.

While this is no guarantee of a rise in degree level participation in low participation neighbourhoods, university officials are optimistic it offers hope for the future.

Today’s report from the UCU which covers the workforce in the area (and therefore people who left school a long time ago) just underlines what a mountain has to be climbed.

A spokeswoman for Lord Mandelson’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said: “The Government has worked hard to widen participation with the overall number of students from lower socio economic groups going to university at its highest level for seven years.

“With investment at record levels, real progress is being made across England with marked growth in some of the most disadvantaged areas.”