Durham fails to meet target for widening access to poorer students
One quarter of universities in England, including Durham, have failed to meet their own targets to admit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The 23 universities under fire also include Cambridge, Bristol and Exeter, who have failed to meet targets they set themselves for the year 2009/10 to broaden their mix of applicants. This is usually done by making use of extra income to provide bursaries, summer schools and outreach projects, to target those who may be unsure about applying to selective institutions.
Last year, universities received over £470m from the Higher Education Funding Council to spend on these activities.
It was agreed in 2006 that widening access was the condition which allowed universities to charge the current fees of just over £3,000.
The Office for Fair Access (Offa) will be discussing universities’ performance with them, and will perhaps be granted more power in the future to fine institutions for bad performance.
The news comes at the same time as fears increase concerning the fee rise planned for 2012. Many are worried the high fees will put off students from low-income backgrounds from applying to university and encourage elitism, and this failure from some of the country’s top institutions will do nothing to dispel those fears.
Wes Streeting, from the Helena Kennedy Foundation, said: “It’s hard to see how things will get better before they get worse.” The Foundation provides help for disadvantaged students.
However, many feel that the problem of poorer students not gaining access to university lies with schools and sixth forms, rather than the universities themselves. Many feel that poor schooling and A-Level grades are the real issue in some cases.
A third year student at Durham University commented: “It is the school’s responsibility to encourage students to apply to university.”
Some Durham students have expressed concerns over how to ensure students from all backgrounds have equal opportunities to attend the best universities, while retaining a meritocratic system within those institutions.
The news has divided opinion on the fairest way of judging admissions criteria. It has also highlighted the difficulties universities face in understanding the most effective ways of recruiting those from less traditional backgrounds.