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 considered for implementation. 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 mould 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.
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.
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.
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.
Private schools were almost twice as likely to still be teaching A Level content as state schools during lockdown.
The proportion of undergraduate students whose jobs have been affected due to the crisis.
Two thirds of students heading to university this year are worried about losing face to face teaching.
We have seen how disruptive the pandemic has been on the university application process. But next year’s applicants are likely to be even more severely impacted than those applying in 2020.
This year’s university applicants have missed a considerable amount of learning, with many still missing further time in school while self-isolating. Young people from disadvantaged backgrounds have been the most affected by this time away from the classroom, and regardless of the final form this year’s assessments take, the playing field is likely to be far from level.
The government should keep the impact on disadvantaged young people front and centre when making plans for assessments this year. For universities, contextual admissions – which allows them to take into account the unequal effects of the pandemic on young people from different socio-economic backgrounds – will be more important than ever.
The economic impacts of the pandemic are being felt across society, including by university students. Many will be struggling to find part time jobs they need to support their studies, while others will have parents less able to provide them with funding now their own economic circumstances have changed. Despite these challenges, England has so far not provided any kind of additional financial support to low income students, which Sutton Trust research has found makes it a global outlier among richer nations. The government should urgently put in place additional financial support for these students.
With blended learning now the norm in UK universities, access to the internet and a suitable device is vital for students. Sutton Trust research has found that while the vast majority of students have access to these resources, small but significant numbers of young people do not: 5% of students reported they did not have sufficient access to the internet and 6% said they did not have sole access to a laptop, computer or tablet to work on.
Universities and government should ensure all current university students are able to access learning during the pandemic.