The top schools that send as many students to Oxbridge as three-quarters of all schools in the UK.
How much more likely independent school pupils are to gain a place at a leading university.
The number of high-attaining disadvantaged pupils that have their grades under-predicted each year.
Contextual admissions – where the social background of a university applicant is taken into account in the admissions process – is a crucial tool in significantly widening access to higher education. Contextual admissions recognise that the playing field is not level at the point of entry to university, and we should look at the untapped potential of candidates as well as their prior achievement.
All universities – including the most selective – should make better and more ambitious use of contextual admissions (including reduced grade offers) when deciding which students to make offers to. They should be more transparent in communicating how contextual data is used and publicise the criteria for contextual admissions clearly on their websites.
Post Qualification Applications
Students currently decide which universities to apply to based on grades predicted by their teachers. However many students – particularly high-attaining disadvantaged students – have their grades under-predicted. This could mean that they don’t apply to the universities most suited to their talents and aspirations.
Post Qualification Applications (PQA) – where students apply only after they have received their A-level results – should be trialled and implemented. This would allow young people to make an informed choice based on their actual grades, as well as preventing the increasing practice of unconditional offers, which has negative consequences in schools and colleges.
Universities spend millions of pounds each year on outreach to increase the numbers of students they enroll, but there is too little robust evidence available to tell them what is most effective in improving access.
All universities should rigorously evaluate their outreach activities. Universities should spend at least 10% of their outreach budgets on evaluation with the goal of undertaking robust research trials, in the mold of the Sutton Trust’s sister charity, the Education Endowment Foundation.
The proportion of young people that worry about the cost of higher education.
The average debt for students from the poorest 40% of households.
The decrease in part-time students between 2010 and 2015.
Students from households in the lowest 40% of earners take on average debts of £51,600, compared to £38,400 in the top 20% of households.
The government should introduce a system of means-tested tuition fees. This would take the biggest debt burden away from the poorest students, waiving them entirely for those from low-income backgrounds and increasing in steps for those from higher income households.
Maintenance grants provide essential support for living costs to students from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Since 2016, the poorest students have had to take out additional maintenance loans which have added to their debt burden.
The government should restore maintenance grants to at least pre-2016 levels. This would provide support for those who need it most, allow students to make university choices best suited to them, and reduce the debt burden for the least well-off, so that they graduate with lower debt than those from better-off backgrounds.
Tailored solutions for mature and part-time students
Part-time study is an important vehicle for social mobility, offering an opportunity for those whose work or family responsibilities make full-time study impractical. It also provides a ‘second chance’ for mature students who may not have followed the traditional route in school. The numbers of part-time and mature students have been particularly affected by the 2012 fee increases.
The government should introduce tailored and flexible finance for the mature and part-time sector, given that this group is less willing to take on debt. Resources should be invested in reinvigorating lifelong learning, particularly for the less well-off.