The number of students from poorer backgrounds admitted to the UK’s leading universities has increased significantly over the last five years, according to the Sutton Trust’s further analysis of university admissions statistics. The growth in entrants from areas where very few students progress to university – low participation neighbourhoods – was found to be significantly higher than those from more affluent areas, and this has been accomplished over a period which has seen an improvement in the average A-level attainment of entrants to leading universities.

Sir Peter Lampl, Chairman of the Sutton Trust, said: “Last week we showed that state school admissions to our leading universities had grown by 35% between Autumn 1997 and 2002, compared with a 22% overall increase in numbers. Some commentators argued that this did not necessarily represent a major step towards widening access but our latest analysis shows that a number of these entrants are from poorer backgrounds. Since 1997, there has been a 49% growth in the admission of students from low participation neighbourhoods, well over the 20% increase experienced by more affluent areas.”

The Trust’s work also shows that since 1997 the average A level attainment of entrants to leading universities had increased from 26.4 in 1997/98 to 26.8 in 2002/03, a clear indication that these universities are not dumbing down to admit extra students.
“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. Furthermore it is being achieved without any dumbing down. But the numbers are still small. Despite accounting for 30% of young people nationally, students from low participation areas make up only 8% of entrants to the top universities and based on their A-level performance there should be more of them.” added Sir Peter.

The Trust’s analysis is based on statistics for the academic years 1997/98 to 2002/03 provided by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) for admissions to 13 top universities. These are the universities of Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Durham, Edinburgh, Imperial, LSE, Nottingham, Oxford, St Andrews, UCL, Warwick and York.

The greatest increases in admissions from low participation areas were at Birmingham, which increased its annual intake by 87%, or 230 students. Bristol and Durham increased their intakes by 68 and 67% respectively, while 5 of the others had increases over 40%. 
The Sutton Trust was set up by Sir Peter Lampl in 1997 to help children from non-privileged backgrounds. Sir Peter has so far donated £14m to this cause.

Table 1: Entrants to the Leading 13 from Low Participation Post Codes

.1997/82002/3ChangeChange %
St Andrews677358


Table 2: Summary of Admissions to Leading 13, 1997/98 – 2002/03

.1997/82002/3Change %Increase in entrants
Total entrants to the leading 132760033575597522%
State school entrants16909 (61%)22797 (68%)588835%
Independent school entrants10691 (39%)10778 (32%)871%
Entrants from low participation neighbourhoods1741 (6%)2587 (8%)84649%
Entrants from other areas25859 (94%)30988 (92%)512920%


Table 1: Entrants to the Leading 13 from Low Participation Post Codes

St Andrews2523.324.726.326.426.4

Source: The Times League Tables, based on HESA data.

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