Universities advised to set working class quotas for students

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The Independent Online

Britain's elite universities should embark on a radical overhaul of admissions procedures and publish specific targets for recruiting more working-class students, according to a report by a leading educational charity.

Britain's elite universities should embark on a radical overhaul of admissions procedures and publish specific targets for recruiting more working-class students, according to a report by a leading educational charity.

The Sutton Trust, which funds summer schools and admissions tutors to help students from poorer backgrounds to enter leading universities, said students from independent schools were 25 times more likely to enter Britain's top 13 universities than sixthformers from deprived areas.

The trust called on vice-chancellors to set out clear timetables for reversing the "imbalance of entry" to highflying institutions.

It condemned the "wastage of talent" caused by the fact that the 7 per cent of sixth-formers who are educated in independent schools represent 39 per cent of the entry to top universities. It said the university admissions system should allow students to apply for university after their A-level results, arguing that the traditional reliance on predicted A-level grades does little to encourage sixth-formers to consider studying at leading institutions.

The Department for Education and Employment welcomed the publication of the report, which comes amid intense political debate over élitism in higher education.

The report says: "It is far harder to get the grades you need to get into a top university if you are in a state school and are from a less affluent background than if you are at an independent school. So we should ... be giving students from less affluent backgrounds a proper chance ... It is in the interests of top universities to draw applicants from as wide a variety of backgrounds as possible to ensure they are admitting the most talented students."

The report says students from independent and high-performing state schools were at an advantage to those from schools with little record of sending children to élite universities. "The applicants from schools with a strong tradition of sending students to top universities will be ... encouraged to apply for the right course and university to maximise their chances of getting in ... Applicants from many comprehensives often do not [believe] they are top university material and do not have access to the same information and contacts with these institutions."

Tony Higgins, chief executive of the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, backed the idea of moving university applications until after A-level results, and agreed that some schools had an edge in securing places for students.

"University departments build up relationships with schools because they know they can trust the students from those schools," he said. "The more the relationships are built up the less easy it is that schools without a long tradition of students going to university to build them."

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Employment said: "We are determined to widen access to higher education, through raising standards and aspirations in state schools and colleges, and by challenging universities to secure a step change in their recruitment and selection. We will also ensure that schools and colleges not only raise the expectations of their students but assist them in preparation for applications, interviews and selection examinations."

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