Government Social Mobility Strategy

11 April 2011

Commenting on the Government’s Social Mobility Strategy, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said:

“The Government is right to look at the many factors that can affect someone’s social mobility throughout their life. Too often an individual’s life chances are reduced at a very early age, well before they might even think of applying to university.  As the Strategy notes, Higher Education plays an important role in social mobility, but many children from poorer backgrounds are significantly underperforming at school and this is the key reason why so few of them are gaining a place at a leading university.

"The most effective way of getting ‘disadvantaged’ students into the best universities is to help them to improve their academic performance and provide better advice and guidance at an early stage. Universities can and do help but we simply cannot solve these problems alone.

"Russell Group universities are committed to building on our strong track-record of investing in access initiatives including school and college partnerships, summer schools and financial aid for the least advantaged students. We are pleased that the report welcomes Informed Choices our recently published guide to post-16 study options, which should help improve information about how school subject choices can impact on university applications. Too many students don’t choose the subjects at A-level which will give them the best chance of winning a place on the competitive courses at leading universities.

“Although qualifications are a key source of information about academic ability, Russell Group universities already take a range of factors into account to ensure that we can identify the candidates with the most potential to excel on our courses, whatever their social or educational background. These factors can include personal statements and references and, in some cases, interviews and additional tests. They often take into account particular barriers candidates may have faced during their education such as spending time in care.  But admission to university is and should be based on merit, and any decisions about admissions must also respect the autonomy of institutions and maintain high academic standards.

“Any measurement of universities’ progress in improving access must be undertaken with great care. The investment of Russell Group institutions into outreach activities benefits the sector as a whole, with many students being inspired to study at other institutions as a result of our work with potential candidates of many ages and backgrounds. 

“Russell Group universities will continue to review their student support and outreach measures to ensure that they target the right students and we look forward to working with Alan Milburn as he produces the Government’s first annual report on social mobility in higher education.”

Note to Editors

  1. We currently invest over £75 million a year in access initiatives.  This £75m is the total ‘OFFA-countable’ expenditure on access, funded from additional fee income in 2008-09. A wide range of access initiatives undertaken in our universities that are funded from other sources, including donation and endowment income, are not included. See http://www.russellgroup.ac.uk/widening-participation/ for more details of activities and initiatives undertaken by Russell Group universities.

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