The number of state school students progressing to university has dropped for the first time in eight years, according to the Higher Education Statistics Agency. In the academic year 2017/2018, only 89.5 per cent of the enrolled full-time first year undergraduates came from public schools, in comparison with 90 per cent in 2016/2017.
Despite more young people being able to access higher education than ever before, the facts and figures of this report reveal there are still challenges to face in order to ensure equal opportunities to all students across the United Kingdom.
The HESA summary highlights the concerning admissions gap existing in the top universities of the country. Although only 6.5 per cent of school children in the United Kingdom are privately educated, their admission rates to some universities are above average. 15 universities saw just under 30% of their first-year undergraduates coming from independent schools.
Even though they are a minority, students from private schools make up most of the admissions to some of the best universities in the United Kingdom. The Russell Group of research-intensive universities are amongst the ones which experience this phenomenon the most, with 60% of pupils from independent schools enrolling at one of these institutions.
The University of Oxford continues to be the one with the highest proportion of private school students. For the academic year 2017/2018, only 58 per cent of students admitted into Oxford came from public schools. According to a study carried out by the Sutton Trust, privately educated students are 7 times more likely to be admitted into Oxbridge. The University of Cambridge, Durham University and the Imperial College also present alarming numbers, with around 63 per cent of their enrolled students coming from state school.
Even though there has been a drop in the number of state school students enrolling in university, the number of students from disadvantaged areas progressing into higher education has been steadily increasing over the past few years. The percentage of students from low participation neighbourhoods across the United Kingdom has increased 0.2 per cent from 2016/2017 to 2017/2018, making up 11.6 per cent of the students across the country.
The institutions which have seen the biggest improvement are also Russell Group universities. In 2017/2018, the number of students from low participation neighbourhoods increased 8.2 per cent. For 2018/2019, the Russell Group will invest £270 million in narrowing the socio-economic admission gap existing in its universities. Through bursaries, grants, mentoring schemes and support for prospective students, they expect to continue attracting students from diverse backgrounds.