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Monday, October 25, 1999 Published at 13:07 GMT 14:07 UK


University recruitment targets deprived areas

Universities are to be judged on their 'social inclusivity'

Universities are being encouraged to find ways of recruiting students from deprived areas.

The BBC's Sue Littlemore: "Universities are to target students in poorer areas"
The Education Minister Baroness Blackstone has launched a scheme which will allow universities to pinpoint areas from which few young people attend higher education.

This social 'mapping', based on applications gathered by the universities admissions service, will highlight higher education 'blackspots' so that they can be targeted by universities.

[ image: Tony Higgins says low-income families are
Tony Higgins says low-income families are "woefully under-represented" in universiites
But critics of the scheme say that efforts should be put into finding the most able students and not those from any particular social background.

Using a database developed by the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, universities will be able to identify the higher education participation rates in individual postcodes or estates.

It is expected that universities will link up with schools in such deprived areas or would develop publicity materials to encourage a greater take-up of courses.

The government wants low-income families to benefit from the increase in higher education places - and performance tables to be published later this year will identify the social and ethnic mix of the student intake.

[ image: Alan Smithers says that selection should only be on ability, not background]
Alan Smithers says that selection should only be on ability, not background
These tables, which will be drawn up by government higher education agencies, will be used to judge how well universities are attracting students from a wide-range of social backgrounds.

The government has allocated an extra £95m to encourage universities to widen access and increase participation by under-represented groups.

"Despite the expansion of recent years, people from lower socio-economic groups are still woefully under-represented in higher education," said Tony Higgins, chief executive of UCAS.

The tables are expected to show that particularly in prestigious institutions such as Oxford and Cambridge there are disproportionate numbers of students from private schools.

However the greatest concentration of ex-private school pupils is now found in medical and veterinary colleges rather than Oxbridge colleges.

But Professor Alan Smithers of Liverpool University says that universities should be looking to finding the most talented pupils and not allowing background to influence selection.

"It doesn't make sense to recruit an orchestra or an Olympic team on social characteristics - you want to recruit on talent," and the same should apply to universities, says Professor Smithers.

  • The postcode system is password-protected for higher education institutions, but a mass of data about applicants is available in spreadsheet form from the Ucas website.

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