Universities making scant progress on poorer students

 

England's top universities have made "little or no headline progress" in recruiting students from poorer families in recent years, a watchdog has warned.

Despite making a considerable effort and spending millions of pounds, the performance of these selective institutions has remained flat, according to a new report by the Office for Fair Access (OFFA).

It suggests that this group of universities must do more to offer activities and schemes that will help to boost the numbers of disadvantaged students going into higher education.

In his foreword to the report, OFFA Director Professor Les Ebdon warns that an "unacceptably large" gap remains between the numbers of rich and poor students attending leading universities.

OFFA's annual report, issued jointly with the Higher Education Funding Council for England, examines the performance of England's universities in widening participation, such as offering bursaries and fee waivers as well as "outreach" activities such as summer schools and master classes for teenagers.

The findings, for the year 2011/12 - the final year before tuition fees were tripled to a maximum of £9,000 - shows a mixed picture.

It reveals that universities spent more than a billion pounds in total on widening participation in 2011/12.

Universities charging over the basic tuition fee, which in 2011/12 was £1,345, must sign an access agreement setting out how they plan to recruit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds. They must also spent at least part of the income they get from charging above this fee on this area.

The latest report shows that institutions spent £444.1 million of their higher fee income on bursaries and outreach activities in 2011/12, compared to £424.2 million in 2010/11.

But the report also shows that while this has gone up in cash terms, universities actually spent a slightly smaller percentage of their extra income from tuition fees compared to the previous year.

OFFA insisted it was not concerned by this, as it had been predicted the year before and was down to the global economic situation, uncertainty about funding and institutions preparing for the new fee system.

The amount of money spent on widening participation from funds other than higher tuition fee income fell to £624 million from £645 million the year before, the report shows.

Separate figures show that overall spend on outreach activities alone fell by £17 million in 2011/12.

This was partly because universities had to alter the way they worked after the Aimhigher scheme, which saw universities and schools working together to encourage young people to go into higher education, ended, the report said.

Prof Ebdon said that most universities had met or exceeded the targets they had set for themselves to recruit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

But in his foreword he adds: "It's not a wholly positive picture.

"We know that, despite their considerable efforts, the most selective institutions have made little or no headline progress in increasing access in recent years."

In future these universities are being asked to spend more money on widening participation and on the activities that are "most effective" at boosting recruitment.

Prof Ebdon adds: "Universities and colleges must get smarter in their investment if we are to maintain the improved participation from disadvantaged groups to the sector as a whole and start to close the unacceptably large participation gap between advantaged and disadvantaged people that remains at our most selective universities.

"Where you come from is still much too closely related to where you will end up, and universities and colleges have a vital role in helping change this."

Today's report is Prof Ebdon's first as OFFA director. At his pre-appointment hearing last year, he told a cross-party group of MPs that he was prepared to use tough sanctions, such as fines or withdrawing funding agreements, for universities that fail to meet targets on recruiting and retaining disadvantaged students.

He said he would be prepared to "press the nuclear button" if institutions do not meet tough targets.

Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, which represents 24 leading universities, including Oxford and Cambridge said its instiutions are committed to ensure its doors are open to talented students.

But she added: "We face real difficulties as we seek to make rapid progress on achieving demanding and quite specific targets.

"There are complex socio-economic problems which mean students from disadvantaged backgrounds all too often fail to achieve the right grades in the right subjects or do not apply to selective universities. Our universities put a lot of effort into trying to help solve these problems but we cannot do so alone."

Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "I have always said that going to university should be about ability, not ability to pay. So it's encouraging that the National Scholarship Programme has helped more than 35,000 students from poor backgrounds in its first year. This has been supported by over £130 million investment from Government and institutions."

The report shows that in 2011/12 14.8 per cent of full fee-paying students at Cambridge University - 1,607 in total - were in receipt of full state support, meaning they were from households with incomes of less than £25,000.

At Oxford, 14.3 per cent of students - 1,443 in total- were in receipt of full state support.

Around 79.5 per cent of the students at the University of East London were from homes with an income of less than £25,000 - 9,478 students in total, and at the University of West London 2,733 students (61.1 per cent) were in this group.

A Cambridge University spokesman said: "Since this reporting period, which relates to 2010 entry, the University has made significant steps towards our key milestone of increasing state sector admissions without compromising academic standards.

"In September 2012, 63.3 per cent of our UK first years came from the state sector, the largest proportion for thirty years. This exceeds our original objective and reflects attainment in UK schools."

Liam Burns, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), said: "The fantastic work of students' unions around the country has protected cash support for many students and in some places managed to turn the tide against useless fee waivers.

"Even so, less money is reaching students' pockets through government and universities than it was in 2010 despite rising living costs and the increased student commitment that comes with higher tuition fees."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SThree: Associate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission: SThree: SThree are a global F...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Guru Careers: Marketing Compliance Assistant

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Compliance Assistant to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are a recent psychology graduate ...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders