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

Les Ebdon, Director, Office of Fair Access

We draw attention to the striking lack of social mobility in the UK, in part measured by the unequal distribution of undergraduate places at leading universities according to socio-economic background. Every year evidence about this is produced.

The progression rate for state school and college pupils to the most selective Higher Education Institutions was 24% in 2010/2011 … the equivalent progression rate for independent sector pupils was 64%.

Widening Participation in Higher Education, Department for Business Innovation & Skills, August 2013

Four private schools and one sixth-form college get more of their students into Oxbridge than the combined efforts of 2,000 state schools and colleges.

University Challenge: How Higher Education Can Advance Social Mobility, Cabinet Office, October 2012

Just 0.2% of year 11 pupils who claimed free school meals who took A-levels or equivalent went on to Oxbridge in 2011-2012

Department for Education report: Destination Measures 2010/2011 and 2011/2012 (published August 2014)

Inequality persists in the world of work. A student from a less advantaged background, gaining the same degree from the same university, has a considerably lower chance of being employed in a graduate occupation when compared to their more privileged peer.

We have been delivering programmes to improve fair access and social mobility for over 45 years.  Our experience leads us to believe that:

  • Whilst there is much good work going on in UNIVERSITIES to address fair access, we have concerns about the balance of expenditure between one-off bursaries and fee waivers as opposed to outreach programmes. And outreach must be on-going and has to address attainment – for that to happen there needs to be close cooperation with schools.
  • Many SCHOOLS AND COLLEGES must do more to support their most able students. They need to develop in young people resilience, self-confidence, key study skills and high aspirations. To achieve this, the fostering of independent learning is essential and the utilising of the most able to support their peers is very useful.
  • Although there is GOVERNMENT commitment to improve social mobility, much of it focuses on early years.  While we appreciate that this is important, we are concerned about the relative lack of support for the post-16 sector, a critical period in a young person’s education when key decisions need to be made and attainment needs to be outstanding. In addition, we would like to see recognition that many of the most able students in schools and colleges substantially underachieve; action needs to be taken to address this waste of talent.

Richard Gould, our Chief Executive is a regular speaker at fair access and widening participation conferences. He is a member of the Bridge Group, an independent policy association drawing on the expertise of its professional network of associates to promote social mobility through higher education. He is a guest at All Party Parliamentary Group on Social Mobility events.