Old-style students in new universities;News;News amp; Opinion

3rd December 1999 at 00:00
Undergraduates are still much more likely to come from affluent backgrounds, reports Sarah Cassidy

NEW universities are no better than the old ones at recruiting students from poorer families, the publication of the first higher education performance indicators has revealed.

One new university, Oxford Brookes, was ranked as having the lowest proportion of undergraduates from less-affluent backgrounds at just 5 per cent. A typical institution with similar entry grades and subject mix might expect at least 13 per cent, according to an analysis by The Times Higher Education Supplement.

The figures also reveal that nearly one in five full-time degree students fails to complete a course. Institutions which were ranked as successful at widening access tended to be those which also had high drop-out rates.

Graham Upton, Oxford Brookes' vice-chancellor, said the university's student profile was affected by its catchment area. "As a new university, we draw from the local region. We are in the middle of rural Oxfordshire in affluent south-east England," he said.

The tables rank all 175 UK universities and higher education colleges, using projected drop-out rates, and analyses them according to the percentage of students from state schools and those with parents in skilled manual, semi-skilled and unskilled occupations.

The five large institutions which enrolled the smallest proportion of poorer students included two old universities, two new universities and a higher education college.

Sir Brian Fender, chief executive of the Higher Education Funding Council, said: "Young people from wealthy areas are more than 10 times more likely to enter higher education than those from the poorest backgrounds.

"We are keen to tackle this longstanding aspect of social exclusion, because it is preventing many people of ability from benefiting from higher education."

The indicators reveal a close correlation between high levels of research funding and fewer undergraduates from poor backgrounds.

Higher education minister Baroness Blackstone said more had to be done to widen access for disadvantaged people and to cut drop-out rates. She said: "High drop-out rates represent a potential waste of talent and an inefficient use of taxpayers' money."

She expected institutions to remedy the shortcomings identified by the analysis.

"Information of this type has been collected and published for schools and further education colleges for some time. It is only right that, in order to retain their world-class reputation, higher education institutions should be equally in the spotlight," she said.

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