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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 00:10 GMT
Wider intake at top universities
Birmingham University has recruited the most
Top UK universities have been recruiting students from a wider range of areas, figures show.

The Sutton Trust, which helps underprivileged youngsters, said the growth rate was far higher than the general rise in student numbers.

The average A-level attainment of those going to the 13 leading UK institutions had also increased.

So there had been no "dumbing down" in pursuit of wider access, said the trust's chairman, Sir Peter Lampl.

Postcode areas

Last week he published a report showing the leading higher education institutions were recruiting a larger proportion of students from state schools.

But he said some commentators had argued this did not necessarily represent a major step towards "widening access" - getting more youngsters with no family tradition of going to university to enter higher education.

So he has asked the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to check the statistics on what are known as "low participation neighbourhoods".

Those are postcode areas known to have a low proportion of 18 and 19-year-olds in higher education.

The figures show that between 1997 and 2002 - the latest available - there had been a 49% increase in admissions of young undergraduates on full-time courses from these areas.

This compared with a 20% increase from other areas.

"This is a most welcome turn-around in life chances and suggests the beginning of a much needed levelling of the playing field as far as university admissions are concerned," said Sir Peter.

"Furthermore it is being achieved without any dumbing down."

'More to do'

The average A-level points attained by those entering the same universities increased from 26.4 to 26.8 (on the old points system) - slightly more than the equivalent of an A and two B grades.

But he said the numbers were still small. Students from low participation areas accounted for 30% of young people nationally but made up only 8% of entrants to the top universities.

"Based on their A-level performance there should be more of them," he added.

His trust says some 3,000 state school students each year achieve the necessary A-levels to go to the best universities but, for various reasons, do not get in.

The Sutton Trust was set up in 1997. Its work - on which Sir Peter is said to have spent 14m to date - includes such things as funding campus summer schools so teenagers can get a flavour of university life.

The table below shows young full-time undergraduates entering 13 higher education institutions with the highest average rankings in newspaper surveys.

Institution 1997 2002 % change
Birmingham 265 495 87
Bristol 92 155 68
Cambridge 108 161 48
Durham 193 322 67
Edinburgh 209 297 43
Imperial 64 93 45
LSE 35 43 25
Nottingham 194 287 48
Oxford 118 173 46
St Andrews 67 73 8
UCL 128 156 22
Warwick 141 185 32
York 126 146 15
Totals 1741 2587 49
Source: Sutton Trust

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