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Last Updated: Wednesday, 10 October 2007, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
Call for more university links
Oxford University
Oxford aims to recruit 75% of undergraduates from state schools
Universities are being urged to forge ties with secondary schools in England, with the aim of widening the social range of students in higher education.

Universities Secretary John Denham has set out how the ties could work, saying partnerships could help both sides.

More than 20 universities already sponsor Academies and 13 have links with new trust schools.

Earlier this year the Prime Minister said every secondary school should have a higher education partnership.

At University College London, which is sponsoring an academy in Camden, Mr Denham launched a prospectus for universities, showing how they could make links.

Such initiatives he said would spearhead efforts to encourage more students from low-income families to apply to universities.

'Talent spotting'

"I believe that an individual's success should be determined by talent and hard work, not where they went to school," he said.

"It is clear that the universities that recruit the vast majority of students from a small minority of society are missing out on a huge amount of talent.

"I also understand that universities cannot offer places to those students who don't apply or those who are not sufficiently equipped to succeed.

"Widening participation in higher education should be seen as talent spotting by universities. This prospectus sets out how we want them to make that happen."

The sector is already actively and deeply involved with a wide range of schools in a variety of different and innovative ways
Diana Warwick, Universities UK

Statistics suggest that young people whose families are in the poorest 20% are five times less likely to go to university than their peers in the richest 20%.

The prospectus points out that universities will be able to sponsor Academies without needing to provide the usual 2million sponsorship contribution.

It sets out three key ways that universities can get involved in the management of secondary schools by: setting up, sponsoring and managing their own academies; supporting an academy as a co-sponsor, bringing educational expertise; and partnering a trust school maintained by the local authority to help it expand its provision.

Universities can also provide professional development for teachers, support and mentoring for pupils as well as developing a specialist curriculum, the guidance says.

World-class system

Both Oxford and Cambridge universities have targets to recruit about three quarters of their undergraduates from state schools, although they dispute the basis on which these are calculated.

But figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency showed Oxford admitted 53.7% of its students from state schools in 2005-06, while the proportion at Cambridge was 57.9%.

Diana Warwick, chief executive of the universities body, Universities UK, said: "UUK supports and shares the government's commitment to building a world-class education system.

"Partnerships with Academies provide another route for universities to support closer links with schools, in addition to the many and varied links that already exist.

"The sector is already actively and deeply involved with a wide range of schools in a variety of different and innovative ways."

Dr Wendy Piatt, director of the Russell Group of leading universities, said: "John Denham is right to recognise the importance of the work of our universities in forging stronger links with schools in achieving the goal of widening participation in higher education.

"We are particularly determined to help to tackle the root cause of the problem of the under-representation of students from poorer backgrounds at Russell Group institutions - the fact that they do not apply due to low aspirations or most importantly, under-achievement at school.

"This is why we have focused our efforts on forming close collaborations and on-going relationships with a range of schools and colleges."

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29 Nov 06 |  Education

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