7th August 2017
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Diversity drive at top universities is failing, as official figures reveal largest ever gap between state and private school students
The gulf has been steadily growing for the past six years, despite leading universities pumping millions of pounds into “access agreements”, according to data published on Thursday by the Department for Education (DfE).
In 2008/9, the first year that data was recorded in its current format, there was a 37 percentage point gap between private and state school educated students, which rose to 43 percentage points in 2014/15, the most recent set of figures.
Some Russell Group universities run summer schools for disadvantaged students, while others provide free tutoring for them during their A-levels.
Professor John Jerrim, an expert in education and social statistics, said: “Universities have been putting a lot of money into access but there are question marks about how well that money is being spent.”
All higher education institutions that want to charge tuition fees of over £6,000 a year must have an “access agreement” in which they set out what steps they will take to boost diversity.
But Professor Jerrim, who is based at the Institute of Education, University College London, said that these agreements are largely a “box-ticking” exercises, adding: “They go out and spend money but they don’t know if it works or not”.
“Most of the emphasis is on sixth form and a lot of resource is spent on bursaries, which will only have minimal impact,” he said. “Money would be better spent earlier to boost achievement in schools.”
Nick Hillman, director of the Higher Education Policy Institute, said that universities’ efforts to improve access are “well meaning” but are not “evidence based”.
Sarah Stevens, head of policy at Russell Group said the report shows there is “more work to be done” to widen access, adding that the group will spend more than £250 million this year on schemes designed to boost diversity.
Universities offer more places to non-EU students who pay quadruple fees
Some of the UK’s top universities have been accused of “betraying” British students as an investigation revealed admissions of non-EU students has risen while intake of domestic students has fallen, despite rising applications. Many non-EU students – who can pay quadruple the fees of home students – gain course places at some of the UK’s most respected educational institutions despite not holding A-Level qualifications or equivalent. Instead, many are able to get into universities with six-month foundation courses, described as “very manageable compared to A-levels” by one foreign student.
The foundation courses last around six months, compared to two years for the A-levels which must be sat by British applicants. Some of the foundation courses are marketed as offering a “guaranteed place” to prospective students and cost up to £23,000.
A Universities UK spokesperson said: “International students are not given university places that would have otherwise have gone to home students. There is rightly no cap on the number of qualified students a university can recruit. “Universities recruit home and international students on merit. Universities will only recruit international students they believe are genuine, would benefit from a university education and are capable of completing the course. Recruiting international students without the academic ability to complete the course is not in universities’ interests as it could put at risk their (Tier 4) licence to recruit international students. “Talented international students also add enormously to the experience of home students, enriching our campuses both academically and culturally. “While pathway programme providers aim to prepare international students for courses, they are only able to signpost applicants to universities. Ultimate decisions on admissions lie solely with the university. Not all pathway students progress to full degree courses.”
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