Britain's leading universities are still failing to attract enough state school pupils and students from disadvantaged homes, according to figures published today.
Only five out of the 24 universities belonging to the Russell Group - which represents most of the country’s leading research institutions – have met benchmarks set for the recruitment of disadvantaged students.
On the recruitment of state school pupils in general, the picture is little better with just eight meeting their target figure.
The university with the worst record of recruiting less well-off students is Oxford with just 9.9 per cent of its intake coming from poorer homes compared with a benchmark of 15.7 per cent.
The data also suggests that the proportion of state school,students admitted to many Russell Group universities had fallen in the past year.
Overall, two out of five universities in the UK are still admitting fewer state school pupils than expected, and around half are failing to recruit enough students from poorer backgrounds.
Universities could be risking more severe consequences as a result of their failure to recruit from september.
Professor Les Ebdon, who has controversially been appointed as head of the Office for Fair Access, warned on being recommended for the post that he would be prepared to use the “nuclear option” of forcing universities to slash their fees if they did not improve access.
Under the new fees arrangements, all universities who want to charge more than £6,000 a year have to sign an agreement with OFFA pledging action to recruit students from disadvantaged groups.
Professor Ebdon, vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire University, said of his appointment: “I am passionate about access to higher education and strongly believe no-one should be put off from going to university because of their family background or income.”
Overall, though, the figures show efforts to widen participation nationally from disadvantaged groups has improved – and that the overall drop-out rate has fallen. However, amongst first-yeast students, it has risen from 6.5 per cent to 7.2 per cent. The university of the West of Scotland has the highest drop-out rate with 23.2 per cent.In England, the university with the biggest drop-out rate is Bolton - where just over one in five students (21.4 per cent) quit their courses. Others with high drop-out rates include London Metropolitan (17.6 per cent), the University of West London (17.9 per cent)
In all, 88.7 per cent of new recruits to universities have come from state schools and 30.6 per cent were from poorer homes.
Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said: “Sadly, today’s figures show that too many students. particularly from disadvantaged backgrounds, are still failing to complete their studies.”
Pam Tatlow, chief executive of the university think-tank million+, added: “These figures underline that it is modern universities which do all the heavy lifting when it comes to providing opportunities for students of all ages and backgrounds to access higher education.”
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, said: “We can only admit those students who apply and have the right grades in the right subjects.”
She added: “Every year we pump millions into our outreach work such as summer schools and access schemes to encourage poorer students to apply and attend our universities.”
The figures are published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.