Research on university access

26 March 2013

Commenting on research by Dr Vikki Boliver of Durham University on access to university, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group, said:

“Russell Group universities work hard to encourage students from a wide range of backgrounds to apply to them and we are far from complacent. But our universities face real difficulties as they work hard to attract students with the most talent, potential and ability from all backgrounds.

“This research is missing a crucial piece of the jigsaw because it does not look at the specific entry requirements for particular courses which affect the likelihood of students being accepted to our universities.

“Neither we nor the researchers can control for individual students making poor A-level choices which lead them to fail to meet entry requirements. Many good students simply haven’t done the subjects needed for entry - universities need students not only to have good grades, but grades in the right subjects for the course they want to apply for. 

“If you apply for Medicine you need science A-levels but equally if you apply for Economics you normally need Maths A-level. Sadly many good students are simply not getting the right advice and guidance on which advanced level subjects will qualify them for their chosen course.

“In addition we know some groups of students are more likely to apply for the most over-subscribed courses. For example Oxford’s three most oversubscribed large (more than 70 places) courses (Economics & Management, Medicine and Mathematics) accounted for 43% of all BME applicants – compared to just 17% of all white applicants. Clearly the more applicants per place the greater the level of competition.”

Notes to editors

  1. By 2016-17 the 20 Russell Group universities in England will be spending £184.4 million on bursaries, scholarships and fee waivers aimed at the most disadvantaged, and £36.8 million on outreach activities, including working directly with schools and laying on access schemes and summer schools. In total the English Russell Group universities will be spending £225.9 million of additional fee income through their access agreements in 2016-17, compared to £212.3 million in 2015-16 - an increase of 6.4%. Russell Group universities in England will on average be spending more than 32% of their additional fee income on measures to improve access - more than the 26.5% average across other higher education institutions.
  2. In order to help students make good choices at A-level the Russell Group published Informed Choices and produced an accompanying film to help level the playing field. Informed Choices is aimed at all students considering A-level and equivalent options and it should help improve information about how subject choices at school can impact on university applications.  It includes advice on the best subject combinations for a wide range of university courses and advice on the best choices for those who want to keep their options open.

Policy area

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