A new ‘percent’ scheme to offer bright pupils in disadvantaged schools a pathway to their local elite university is unveiled today by the Sutton Trust after a review of innovative admissions systems in the UK and across the world. The programme includes an individual admissions route provided students meet minimum A-level grades.

The review finds that despite living on the doorstep of many of the country’s most academically selective universities, the least advantaged fifth of young people remain ten times less likely to attend an elite university than the most advantaged fifth.

Specifically, the new analysis by the Trust shows that 80% of disadvantaged young people live in the vicinity of a highly selective university, but only 1 in 25 of these go on to attend one of these universities.

The report also identifies a considerable pool of untapped potential talent in schools – in 2007 for example 35,000 pupils in England aged 19 with eight or more GCSEs graded A-C did not go onto to take A-levels, and progress to university.

The pilot scheme, which the Sutton Trust is proposing, will identify a percentage of able pupils as early as age 15 at disadvantaged schools in the vicinity of an elite university, and offer them a clear pathway to a place at the university at age 18 – as long as they attend advice and support sessions and meet minimum required A-level grades.

Pupils on the scheme could be given an alternative individual offer for a degree place by the university, the opportunity to prove academic potential and commitment through an additional piece of work, or access to a university foundation year.

The review documents the widespread use of alternative admissions schemes across the world by highly selective universities – and evidence suggesting that students admitted through such programmes do at least as well academically as other students at university and prosper in life after graduation.

Sir Peter Lampl, chairman at the Trust, said:

“There is a need to try innovative approaches to widen access to highly-selective universities. Despite some progress the proportion of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds remains stubbornly low and seems to have stalled. Ten times as many young people from the most advantaged neighbourhoods progress to a highly selective university compared with those from the least advantaged areas.

We need to be bold in trying to address this as there remain far too many bright youngsters in deprived areas whose potential is at present untapped. We must make sure our best universities attract the best students.”

James Turner, director of policy at the Trust, said:

“This pilot project is very much about preserving the high academic standards of leading universities while providing a clear route into them for bright young people living in their vicinities. We are in discussions with a number of universities about developing the pilot project for the next academic year and the specifics are likely to vary from institution to institution as we test different approaches.

An important point is that the scheme will be rigorously evaluated: too little is known about what works in this area and we are keen that the pilot informs future policy thinking so that universities find the best students for their courses, regardless of background.

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