Private school admissions rise for second year in a row

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The number of students admitted to Durham from independent fee-paying schools has risen for the second successive year to 37.8%, statistics on the University’s website reveal. This means that 61.6% of students were admitted from state-funded schools in 2020-21, a fall from 63.4% in 2019-20 and 65.7% in 2018-19. 

The statistics do not distinguish between different types of state-funded schools, such as grammar schools or comprehensives. Nationally, six to seven per cent of students are educated independently; however, students from feepaying schools are significantly overrepresented in Russell Group universities. According to an investigation by The Independent last year, in 22 of these institutions, over 25% of students were educated privately.

The proportion of state school admissions to Durham is lower than Exeter, Edinburgh and University College London, who were among the institutions with some of the lowest proportions of state school pupils in 2019- 20 – admitting 64.7%, 65.7% and 65.9% respectively

The proportion of students from fee-paying schools is higher in some subjects. 37.6% of those admitted to study English were independently educated and 36% in Accounting. However, the smallest proportion of independently educated admissions was in Social Sciences: 8.7% in Education and 11.8% in Sport.

Professor Alan Houston, the university’s Vice-Provost for education said: “We’re constantly striving to ensure we have a diverse and inclusive student community. We want students from all backgrounds with the merit and potential to succeed at the University.”

it is clear that even more needs to be done in order to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to Durham.

“A more accurate indicator of disadvantage than school type is whether a student is from a Low Participation Neighbourhood (LPN), which is why the Office for Students has asked universities to give primary attention to this measure. We have therefore focussed our efforts since 2018- 19 on improving access for LPN students, who attend all types of schools. 

On this measure, we have made substantial progress in diversifying our student intake and we have reduced the gap between entrants from the most advantaged and most disadvantaged postcodes by 38% since 2018-19.” 

“However, we are not complacent and we know, for example, that we can be bolder in our use of contextual information which we are working towards under our Access and Participation Plan. We will continue to make improvements to our admissions and support systems for all students, and especially for those who are under-represented in higher education.” 

The 93% Club Durham, who seek to improve the experience of state-school students at the University, were “disappointed” by Palatinate’s findings. “Whilst the university can be seen to be implementing policies in order to try and increase the number of state school students, it is clear that even more needs to be done in order to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds applying to Durham.

“It is clear that the ‘Durham culture’ which can make a lot of prospective students as well as current ones feel that they are not welcome at Durham needs to be tackled.”

“State school students deserve to feel confident in their place here and are often deterred by the feeling that they do not comply with the image of the typical Durham student.” 

Ewan Swift, Welfare and Liberation Officer at Durham SU, told Palatinate: “With all the talk given by the University around culture and the Respect Commission, there needs to be an acknowledgement of how so many students feel alienated at Durham when they don’t seem themselves in others. 

This need for better access and participation goes beyond just state versus non-state entry too, as Durham has a real problem with a lack of ethnic diversity”.

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Correction: this article previously stated that admissions had risen or a third year in a row. It was amended to reflect that it was the second year. The article has also been amended to remove figures for Computer Science and Mathematics departments admissions and to amend the statistics for Accounting and English. We apologise for this error and are happy to make this clear.

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