Over the last five years, eight times as many students were admitted to Durham University from the wealthiest areas of the country than from the most deprived, according to data obtained by Palatinate from Freedom of Information requests.
The 93% Club Durham, which advocates for state school students, said that “deeper and more ambitious changes” are needed.
Levels of deprivation are measured according to the official Index of Multiple Deprivation, with IMD-10 the ‘least deprived’ areas and IMD-1 the ‘most deprived’. The data highlights the infamous disparity between the University and the surrounding county. The average (median) student admitted in 2020/21 is on the border line between IMD-7 and IMD-8: that is, in the wealthiest 30%. The average of IMD for County Durham as a whole is 4.3: that is, in the most deprived half of areas.
The figures are only for undergraduate students who live in the UK, and therefore do not include international students who typically pay much higher fees.
In 2020/21, as a result of exam grades complications in the UK, significantly more students met their offers and were admitted to the University. In raw terms, the wealthiest areas saw the highest increase in students admitted: 165 more than the four year average, compared to 65 more students from the most deprived area.
The ratio of UK-domiciled students admitted from IMD-10 (least deprived) to IMD-1 (most deprived) has fallen in the last 5 years: from almost 9:1 from the wealthiest backgrounds to from the most deprived to less than six.
However, almost all of this fall came in 2020/21 with the exams fiasco - in 2018/19, for example, the figure rose to 11. Because the number of students from IMD-1 is so small relative to IMD-10, the ratio is significantly affected by small changes in the number from IMD-1.
The number of students admitted from the most deprived two deciles remained fairly stable between 70 and 100 and 120 and 130 respectively from 2016-17 to 2019/20, the last year prior to the disruption to admissions due to the pandemic.
The Index of Multiple Deprivation is based on the address of a student. This is the official government measure of relative deprivation in England, considering factors such as financial resources.
The seven distinct ‘domains’ of deprivation considered are income, employment, health deprivation, disability, education and skills training, crime, barriers to housing and services, and living environment.
Durham 93% Club, a student group which advocates for and supports state school students, told Palatinate: “While the 93% Club welcomes the fact that the number of most deprived students being admitted into Durham is increasing, it is clear that not enough is being done to broaden Durham’s outreach and appeal to the least well-off students.
“The 93% Club has argued since it was founded that Durham University needs to do more to encourage and support applications of students from state schools, in particular those with a deprived student base. This must be accompanied by meaningful action in addressing the image and reputation of Durham University as elitist and unrepresentative of the student bodies of schools in deprived areas.
“While small positive progressive steps are being taken to diversify Durham’s intake, Durham University needs to accept the reality of the deeper and more ambitious changes needed to ensure that more stateschool students and those who are most deprived are admitted and feel welcomed into this wonderful place to study.”
A Durham University spokesperson said: “We strive to ensure we have a diverse and inclusive student community. We want students from all backgrounds with the merit and potential to succeed here at the University.
“We run a number of successful schemes aimed at widening participation, and our latest Access and Participation Plan is by far the boldest yet with demanding targets that we aim to meet. These targets focus on increasing enrolments of students from Low Participation Neighbourhoods (POLAR 4) and black students.
“We actively encourage students from a broad range of backgrounds to apply to Durham, including those who are from backgrounds that are underrepresented in Higher Education.”
Image: Thomas Tomlinson