Benchmarks row detracts from rapid rise in state school entrants to top universities

The row about the increase in the benchmarks for state school students attending our leading universities is hiding the truth about the rapid growth of state school students with high qualifications attending them, according to a new report by the Sutton Trust.

The number of students from state schools going to 13 leading universities rose from 16,900 in 1997/98 to 22,800 in 2002/03 – a rise of 5,900 or 35% – accounting for almost all the growth in the number of undergraduate students at these universities They now form 68% of new admissions instead of 61% five years ago.

The Sutton Trust report goes on to say that the new government benchmarks – which use total UCAS points rather than A level grades – cannot be justified for top universities as these universities use A level grades to select students.

“The furore over the new higher benchmarks should not detract from two incontrovertible facts which lie at the heart of this debate,” said Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust. “On the one hand, we have a real success story. Initiatives such as summer schools and better school-university links have encouraged thousands more young people from state schools to attend our top universities.

“On the other, we face a continuing challenge. There are still 3,000 state school students who each year achieve the A levels necessary to enter our leading universities, but who, for a variety of reasons, do not end up there. More than anything these findings demonstrate that the deep-rooted inequalities in our education system can be – and are being – addressed without compromising the high standards of our top universities.”

“Ministers should not allow the controversy over the new benchmarks to undermine the success of a range of outreach initiatives. They should instead ask the new Director of Fair Access, Professor Sir Martin Harris, to work with universities to continue to develop their outreach activities and to develop benchmarks which reflect their actual admission standards, setting challenging but realistic goals for the future”, added Sir Peter.

The Trust’s latest report 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.  Birmingham and Bristol universities have increased their representation of state school students the most by 9 percentage points. York University has an 80% state school student intake – the highest of the 13 – followed by Birmingham (79%) and Warwick (78%) see table on next page. Oxford has increased its state school intake by 8 percentage points from 47% to 55% and Cambridge by 6 percentage points from 52% to 58%.

Figure 1: State School admissions: performance 1997/98 – 2002/03

.                             1997/98                               2002/03 . .
. Total young entrants State school entrants % of total intake Total young entrants State school entrants % of total intake Increase in state school entrants % points increase
Birmingham 3314 2316 70% 4460 3519 79% 1203 9%
Bristol 2310 1271 55% 2725 1739 64% 468 6%
Cambridge 2712 1402 52% 2975 1714 58% 312 6%
Durham 2418 1499 62% 3130 2138 68% 639 6%
Edinburgh 2979 1826 61% 3340 2194 66% 368 5%
Imperial 1278 684 54% 1430 897 63% 213 9%
LSE 493 280 57% 685 453 66% 173 9%
Nottingham 2768 1885 68% 4290 3123 73% 1238 5%
Oxford 2957 1384 47% 2980 1651 55% 267 8%
St Andrews 964 578 60% 900 562 62% -16 2%
UCL 2134 1233 58% 2445 1501 61% 268 3%
Warwick 2009 1549 77% 2440 1898 78% 349 1%
York 1264 1002 79% 1775 1408 80% 406 1%
Totals 27600 16909 61% 33575 22797 68% 5888

Source: Government university admissions data

University No of applicants in 2004 No of places and dates
Bristol 463 120 – 13th-18th July
Cambridge 565 148 – 6th-11th, 13th-18th
Nottingham 234 72 – 20th-26th July
Oxford 1103 300 – 6th-11th July
St Andrews 129 60 – 6th-11th July
Total 2494 700

The Cambridge Summer School is co-funded with Glenn Earle, a partner at Goldman Sachs.

As well as these six summer schools, the Sutton Trust sponsors two summer schools for further education students at Cambridge University and one at Southampton University. There is also an annual Sutton Trust summer school for about 110 teachers from state schools and colleges at Oxford University. This programme and the Sutton Trust Summer School at Oxford is part-funded by the University’s HEFCE funding for widening participation initiatives.

2017-07-27T17:38:28+01:00August 1st, 2004|Categories: Press releases|