The link between wealth and educational attainment is a widely known relationship in British society. Nevertheless, it is generally assumed that the gaps between the educational achievement of different classes has been declining over recent years. Recent UCAS data, however, has revealed that university admissions are still incredibly unequal, with students from more advantaged areas being significantly more likely to get places at Oxbridge than students from less advantaged areas.
Some of the figures provided by UCAS are particularly shocking. For example, students from the most advantaged neighbourhoods are 16 times more likely to win a place at the University of Cambridge than those from disadvantaged backgrounds. The data, published on 9 June, also looks at the link between ethnicity and admissions. Interestingly, the study suggests that white students are now under-represented at nearly half of all universities. Nevertheless, the data emphasises that white teenagers remain significantly over-represented at prestigious institutions. For instance, white students are 9 times more likely than black students to be admitted to the University of Edinburgh, and 4 times more likely to go to Newcastle University.
Wendy Piatt, Russell Group Director General, said that the UCAS data shows “no evidence of bias within the admissions system” as the root causes of under-representation are much more complex than the statistics indicate. Dr Piatt argues that in actual fact real progress has been made as 18-year-olds from disadvantaged backgrounds were 39 per cent more likely to enter more selective universities in 2015 than in 2011. Indeed, Dr Piatt argues that, without the full context of individual applications, the data published by UCAS is limited to explain why some students are not applying to or winning places at leading universities. Equally, there are limits to the data used by such studies. For instance, admissions data does not take account of students’ predicted grades or the competitiveness of the course they applied to. In light of these limits, Mark Corver, the director of analysis and research at UCAS, said “We would not expect this information to be used by students when they apply to universities.”
Publishing more data on this subject is not enough to solve the longstanding problems in access to and participation in higher education. Nevertheless, hopefully it will allow universities to identify issues and devise solutions to tackle the continued inequalities.
By Nina Harris