7.8% of Durham graduates are from the North East

By Naomi Clarke & Tom Saunders

Palatinate can reveal that the average percentage of Durham University graduates from the North East over the last five year is 7.8%.

This percentage is significantly less than other universities located within the North East of England.

23% of Newcastle University’s admissions in the 2017/18 academic year were from the North East and a Centre For Cities study reported that half of the students at Northumbria originated from the region.

The North East of England has been identified by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) as the region where young people are least likely to access Higher Education.

The latest Higher Education Statistics Agency’s (HESA) data, published in February 2017, confirms that the region also has the highest proportion of entrants from low participation neighbourhoods (LPNs), at 23.2% compared to a national average of 11.3%.

Durham University has recognised that ‘the most significant access challenge is the participation of students from areas of lower higher education participation neighbourhood (LPN), lower household income and lower socioeconomic status groups.’

Durham University has affirmed that the majority of their students are from ‘the highest participating in higher education neighbourhoods’, on average 52-55% over the past five years, comparative to 5-7% coming from the Low Participation Neighbourhood group, measured by ‘POLAR4 quintiles.’

Durham University has recognised what ‘makes this ratio particularly problematic’ is that ‘quintile 5 includes the postcode areas for many of the best performing schools in the country.’ 

‘Durham recognises that many of its indicators of success can also be barriers to students traditionally under-represented in higher education.

Durham University’s ratio of quintiles 5 and 1 is currently 10:1, while the average ratio among high tariff institutions is currently 5:1. 

The Office for Students has set a national target of reducing the ratio at high tariff institutions to 3:1 by 2024-25. Durham University has admitted they are ‘a long way from this Ofs national target.’ 

The University of Durham states in their ‘Access and Participation Plan 2020/21 to 2024/25’ that ‘Durham University is a globally prominent, highly selecting institution, with demanding degree programmes’ and that ‘Durham recognises that many of its indicators of success can also be barriers to students traditionally under-represented in higher education.

‘Demanding entry standards and a perception of high cost may discourage students who lack confidence in their academic ability.’

Following a Freedom of Information request, Palatinate found that, on average over the last five years, North East students account for 7.77% of Durham graduates, non-North East UK Graduates account for 72.45%, and Non-UK students make up 19.78%.

The University has stated they have worked hard to increase the proportion of students from ACORN (A Classification of Residential Neighbourhoods) categories 4 and 5, rising from 7% in 2012-13 to 13.4% in 2018/19.

To increase their contextual offers, the University has created a membership scheme for schools in the North East called ‘Excellence in a Local Context’ initiative.

This will enable the University to enhance their current contextual offers based on the individual circumstances of students within that school.

However, Durham University recognises it cannot alleviate the discrepancy through just making more contextual offers, which take into consideration socioeconomic backgrounds.

The ratio between ‘POLAR 4’ quintiles 1 (lowest participation) and 5 (highest) at application is still above 1:8. The University has admitted they ‘undoubtedly need to generate more quintile 1 applications.’

An increase in contextual offers and involvement with local schools will not alone solve the perception that Durham is not a place or those from low socio-economic backgrounds.

Sam Johnson-Audini, SU Undergraduate Academic Officer

However, ‘doubling the number of LPN students would bring Durham close to the average LPN population for universities in the North East, but it will not achieve the 3:1 ratio.

In a statement to Palatinate, Professor Alan Houston, Vice-Provost (Education) said: ‘At Durham we aim to attract the brightest and best students with the merit and potential to succeed here, regardless of their background.

‘We are determined to enable more students from the North East to graduate with a Durham degree. We have just released a bold plan which will enable us to do this and we will be taking some significant steps to ensure that these statistics will look very different by 2025.’

Initiatives the University has put in place to improve representation from students in the North East include the Durham Mathematics School.

The University states they are ‘currently working on plans to launch a specialist mathematics school, offering exceptional teaching at a sixth form level to talented students from the region who would not otherwise have access to mathematics education post-16.’

They have also established a ‘Schools outreach’ programme, where they plan to ‘continue to foster strong relationships with local schools, providing activities and resources to target groups, and encouraging students to ac-
cess higher education.’

They also plan to redesign their ‘supported progression scheme’ specifically for students in the North East from Low Participation Neighbourhoods.

Durham have established a ‘Schools outreach’ programme to continue to foster strong relationships with local schools

The other major universities in the North of England, Liverpool and Leeds, also far outstrip Durham in terms of local students.

At the University of Leeds, 23% of their students originally came from the region of Yorkshire and the Humber. This figure was substantially higher at the other major universities in Leeds: Leeds Trinity University and Leeds Beckett.

In the North West, Liverpool University attained a similar figure with 30% of their students for the year 2014/15 coming from the area.

The other major universities in the North of England, Liverpool and Leeds, also far outstrip Durham in terms of local students

In reaction to these findings, Sam Johnson-Audini, SU Undergraduate Academic Officer said: “The university’s move towards recruiting more students from low participation neighbourhoods is welcomed, however, an increase in contextual offers and involvement with local schools will not alone solve the perception that Durham is not a place or those from low socio-economic backgrounds.

“The University needs to tackle the high cost of attendance and elitist cultures if it hopes to ever achieve the OFS target. Durham needs to not just recruit more students from low participation neighbourhoods- they need to ensure students from low participation neighbourhoods feel included at Durham and are able to thrive while here. “

Photograph by iluvgadgets via Flickr and Creative Commons

Graphics: Naomi Clarke & Durham University

3 thoughts on “7.8% of Durham graduates are from the North East

  • In other news, Cardinal Archbishop of Rome turns out to be a Catholic.

    I mean, who knew, eh? Durham doesn’t have many from the local region here*

    * I was actually one of them, incidentally

  • This pattern is largely determined by the prior stratification of national entry qualifications. HEIS is the NE will take local students roughly in inverse proportion to the level of qualification they demand on entry. Edinburgh, Bristol and other HEIs will have similar patterns. Maybe not Imperial, for example, because it is set in an area of relative prosperity and higher population density. These factors need to be accounted for and the patterns of entry looked at net of such economic and geographical factors.

    POLAR and similar area measures are NOT the answer and may indeed worsen the underlying problem. Where contextualised admission or supported progression are used they must be based only on individual-level factors and not where one comes from. Most disadvantaged students do not live in the most disadvantaged areas, and many disadvantaged students live in relatively disadvantaged areas. POLAR is a fake used in a lazy fashion by HEIs and governments pretending to widen participation.

    • Things like POLAR are exactly the problem with systems driven by targets driven by increasingly algorithmic application of metrics. They’re imperfect measures, and often multi-dimensional. The temptation is to take the course of least resistance to hit compliance. There are also historical factors at play here. Entry to institutions like Durham is skewed through a progression pipeline constructed a century or more ago, in a feedback loop of schools teaching curricula, feeding to universities who expect students schooled in that way. It strikes me that the state sector often now has an entirely different set of parameters for success from the independent sector. That mismatch is another reason why Durham is not even as a fit for those who education is mostly predicated not on being leaders, but “team players”. It comes as no surprise


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