In 2011, the Sutton Trust published Degrees of Success, which looked at university acceptance rates and how they differ by school type and area, finding state school pupils were considerably less likely to go to top universities than independent or grammar school pupils.
Access to Advantage returns to the issues raised in this report, with findings showing little has changed. In the UK, whether someone goes to university, and if so at which institution they study, is still highly impacted by an individual’s socioeconomic background, the school they attend and where in the country they are from.
Authored by Sutton Trust Research Fellow Rebecca Montacute, this report uses UCAS data to analyse university acceptance rates for the 2015-2017 cohorts by school type and region, and discusses what schools and universities can do to help close the gap in Higher Education participation rates in England.
This map shows Russell Group attendance rates across England. Click on the map to find out more about who goes to which type of universities in your local area.
- Universities should make greater use of contextual data in their admissions process, to open-up access to students from less privileged backgrounds. Highly selective universities in particular, where low and moderate-income students are substantially under-represented, should make greater use of contextual admissions, including reduced grade offers, to recognise the differing circumstances faced by applicants.
- There should be greater transparency from universities when communicating how contextual data is used, including the use of automated ‘contextual data checkers’. In order for contextual admissions to have an effect, it should be communicated clearly to potential applicants where they may benefit from a contextual offer. Otherwise, they may never apply in the first place. Universities should publicise the criteria for contextual admissions clearly, along with how they are taken into account. For example, through an easy-to-use lookup tool on university websites allowing candidates to enter their details and find out whether they qualify.
- A geographic element should be included in future university access agreements, including a focus on peripheral areas. There is a notable lack of provision of university outreach in peripheral areas in stark contrast to working-class schools and colleges in London, which often receive high levels of engagement. Oxbridge and other selective universities should target schools in such neglected areas.
- Universities should work to reassure students and families who may be reluctant to move substantial distances to university. Outreach activities, open days and summer schools such as the Sutton Trust’s Summer Schools can help to reassure such students – and their parents – about travelling by offering more opportunities for them to visit those universities.
- All pupils should receive a guaranteed level of careers advice from professional impartial advisers. For those facing disadvantage – or who are at risk of failing to reach their potential – there should be further support available, including being supported to undertake and reflect upon academic enrichment activities for the personal statement. The ‘Careers Leaders’ in schools, established by the government’s Careers Strategy, should ensure that key messages are consistent across staff and based on up to date guidelines.
- Advice should happen earlier, and include guidance on subject options at A level. Many young people are not getting the right advice when it comes to A level options. Students need more support at an earlier age, that can help them to make an informed choice on their A-level choices. This should include advice on ‘facilitating subjects’, favoured by Russell Group universities.