Private school students more likely to get into top universities
The director of a watchdog in charge of ensuring fair access to higher education in the UK has accused British universities of
Professor Les Ebdon, head of the Office for Fair Access (Offa), said universities were choosing \"good middle-class\" applicants over their poorer counterparts, because of worries disadvantaged backgrounds were more likely to drop out.
Speaking to the Observer newspaper on Sunday ahead of A-level results on Thursday, Ebdon said it was vital for funding to compensate universities for accepting disadvantaged students to be protected against government cuts.
The £327 million student opportunity allocation was cut by 10% by the chancellor George Osborne earlier this year, and debate is currently underway over whether it should be the main victim of a further £45 million cut scheduled for 2015.
\"To put it bluntly, if you really want to maximise the income of your university, then you take kids from a good middle-class background whose parents can ensure they don\'t fall into financial difficulty,” Ebdon said.
“I think the student opportunities allocation is extremely important because, while it may only cover half to a third of the additional costs of such students, it is some kind of compensation to those universities.\"
Ebdon’s comments follow the release of official data showing that 64% of privately educated students got into the most selective universities in 2010-11, compared to 24% of state school pupils.
However, the figures also showed that the chances of very poorest going to university had improved, and that students from disadvantaged areas are more likely to apply to selective universities than they were in 2004.
\"So I think we are being able to see some impact now for all the work that universities are doing to widen access. We have been pushing them very hard to engage in outreach activity,” said Ebdon, who was vice-chancellor at the University of Bedfordshire before joining the fair access watchdog.
\"This is further evidence that our original attempts through bursaries and financial inducements to students have not worked as well as outreach programmes.\"
\"Very often you can get a kid really turned on to it and they go home and the family say: \'No, university isn\'t for the likes of us, you won\'t be going\',\" he said. \"You have to engage with a whole family, indeed a whole community, [to encourage them] into believing university is a realistic option for everyone.\"
But the Professor’s comments have not been welcomed in all quarters.
The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference of leading independent schools called remarks “disappointing”.
Chris Ramsay, a spokesman for the HMC, which represents 250 leading independent schools, denied there was any evidence that universities preferred middle-class applicants.
Mr Ramsay, headmaster of the King\'s School Chester, told the Telegraph: “It is disappointing to read yet again of a senior commentator accusing universities of social bias.
“The only pressure we can see being brought to bear on universities is from pressure groups who would like them to discriminate against ‘middle class’ applicants, which at the moment they are rightly resisting.”
A spokesman for the prestigious Russell Group of universities said funding decisions were “for the government”, but called for an increase in funding for science and engineering subjects, which it said were crucial for economic growth.