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Last Updated: Tuesday, 2 November 2004, 08:44 GMT
University intake 'is widening'
Birmingham is one of the institutions which has changed most
Leading UK universities are recruiting a higher proportion of students from state schools, analysis shows.

The Sutton Trust, which helps children from unprivileged backgrounds, said the state intake to 13 top institutions rose from 61% in 1997 to 68% in 2002.

It said the row about new "benchmarks" they were supposed to have achieved was obscuring this "success story".

Instead ministers should ask the new access regulator to work with universities on more realistic goals.

The Higher Education Minister, Kim Howells, has indicated previously that he will review the benchmarks - which are devised by a "steering group" made up of representatives of interested parties.


The Sutton Trust's founder, Peter Lampl, has analysed data from the Higher Education Funding Council for England and Higher Education Statistics Agency on admissions to 13 higher education institutions with the highest average rankings in newspaper surveys.

His report shows that Birmingham, Bristol, the LSE and Imperial College London increased their representation of state school students the most, by nine percentage points between 1997 and 2002 - the most recent available statistics.

Oxford increased its state school intake by eight percentage points from 47% to 55% and Cambridge by six points from 52% to 58%.

Warwick and York changed the least but had relatively high proportions, at 78% and 80%.

The figures show that, across the 13, there were 5,975 more young entrants in 2002 than in 1997 - all but 87 of them from state schools.

The head of Birmingham's widening participation unit, Sandra Cooke, said: "These positive figures show that students can achieve their goal of an education at a leading university, regardless of their background."

Cambridge was one of the most vocal in condemning the latest statistics when they emerged last month, arguing that its "benchmark" was unrealistic.

The funding council raised the benchmarks retrospectively - in Cambridge's case from 65% to 75%.


The new ones used the universities' admissions service's points "tariff" for qualifications.

Peter Lampl
The deep-rooted inequalities in our education system can be - and are being - addressed without compromising the high standards of our top universities
Sir Peter Lampl
But Sir Peter agrees that this is misleading for universities which select people on their A-level grades.

"The furore over the new higher benchmarks should not detract from two incontrovertible facts which lie at the heart of this debate," said Sir Peter.

"On the one hand, we have a real success story. Initiatives such as summer schools and better school-university links have encouraged thousands more young people from state schools to attend our top universities.

"On the other, we face a continuing challenge."

There were still 3,000 state school students who each year achieved the necessary A-levels but who, for a variety of reasons, did not get in.

"More than anything these findings demonstrate that the deep-rooted inequalities in our education system can be - and are being - addressed without compromising the high standards of our top universities."


Sir Peter said ministers should ask the new Director of Fair Access, Professor Sir Martin Harris, to work with universities on their efforts to reach out to state schools, and to develop benchmarks which reflected their actual admission standards.

It was still the case that many of the leading 13 had a deficit of 10 or more percentage points between the proportion of state school pupils they should be taking and their actual intake.

In other words, there had been more than 18,000 state school students who could have been admitted to the leading universities whose places were taken by less well-qualified privately educated pupils, he said.

"It is likely that inter-personal skills, aspirations, distance from home and aversion to debt all have a bearing on these issues, and The Sutton Trust is continuing to research the nature of these obstacles in order to find practical, effective ways of overcoming them."

Mr Howells said: "It is a shame that this year's benchmarks caused such a storm. The fact is our universities are getting better at opening up their doors to a wider group of students and this Sutton Trust report is the proof.

"I am looking at the benchmarks to see if there if there is any way they can be improved and better understood by all people concerned."

Institution 1997 2002 rise
Birmingham 70% 79% 9
Bristol 55% 64% 9
Cambridge 52% 58% 6
Durham 62% 68% 6
Edinburgh 61% 66% 5
Imperial 54% 63% 9
LSE 57% 66% 9
Nottingham 68% 73% 5
Oxford 47% 55% 8
St Andrews 60% 62% 2
UCL 58% 61% 3
Warwick 77% 78% 1
York 79% 80% 1
Totals 61% 68% 7
Source: Sutton Trust/Hefce/Hesa

Some universities still have a way to go

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