HESA Performance Indicators 2009/10

31 March 2011

Commenting on the latest Performance Indicators in Higher Education for 2009–10, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of universities, said:

“Today’s figures have once again confirmed that the Russell Group universities maintain very high levels of retention indeed. Student satisfaction and retention are very important to our universities and we are constantly assessing how best to ensure that all students are given all the support – financial or otherwise – they need not only to complete their course but to fulfil their potential at a Russell Group university.

“Today’s figures also illustrate once again the particular challenges that the country’s most selective universities face in widening participation from state schools and colleges as well as from lower socio-economic groups. Russell Group universities are committed to broadening access so that every student with the qualifications, potential and determination to succeed at a leading university can do so, whatever their background. But it is really important to understand that the key reason why too few poorer students even apply to leading universities is that they are not achieving the right grades at school. Students who come from low-income backgrounds and/or who have attended comprehensive schools are much less likely to achieve the highest grades than those who are from more advantaged backgrounds and who have been to independent or grammar schools. Worryingly, this gap in achievement according to socio-economic background is getting wider.

"Moreover, the HESA Benchmarks for widening participation should not be used as the main way of assessing progress as they provide unsuitable, insufficient and flawed targets against which universities’ progress can be meaningfully measured. As Lord Browne found, the benchmarks fail to provide a full picture of the student body actually qualified to enter many courses; for example, they take no account of the fact that someone with four A*s at A-level might not have a strong chance of acceptance on a very competitive Medicine course, unless the A-levels are in the required subjects. They also do not take into account whether students with potentially the right level of qualifications actually apply to our universities – we cannot offer places to these individuals unless they apply for them. Given our reservations about the benchmarks, we welcome the fact that for institutions in England the Office for Fair Access will be allowing institutions to set their own targets and measures of progress in improving access for poorer students.

"The most effective way of getting students from low income backgrounds 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. This is why the Russell Group recently published Informed Choices, our guide to post-16 study options, which is helping to improve information about how subject choices at school can impact on university applications. Our universities have a strong track-record of investing in access initiatives including school and college partnerships, summer schools and financial aid for the least advantaged students. They are continuing to invest in new and innovative ways to help poorer students win a place at our universities and to evaluate the effectiveness of these initiatives."

Notes to Editors

  1. Only 3.65% of young full-time first degree students at Russell Group universities were not in higher education the following year, compared to 6.54% across the sector. This is an improvement on last year when 3.69% former RG students were not in HE the following year. 
  2. Levels of student satisfaction at Russell Group universities are particularly notable. Question 22 of the National Student Survey asks undergraduates to agree or disagree with the statement ‘Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course’. The average satisfaction rate across Russell Group universities is 86%.  This compares with an average of 82% across the sector.  
    29.92% of all students who got 3A*-As at A-level in 2009-10 were at comprehensive schools.  This was 10,237 students, which is 8.2% of the total taking A-levels at comprehensives.
  3. Comprehensives accounted for 46.7% of all A-level students. By comparison, 11,386 candidates got 3A*-As at independent schools, which is 33.27% of all 3A candidates, and 32.3% of those taking A-levels at independent schools.  Independent schools accounted for only 13.2% of all A-level candidates. In 2009, only 232 (or 4.1%) of students in maintained mainstream schools and known to be eligible for free school meals achieved 3 or more A grades at A-level.
  4. In the last 15 years the proportion of A-level students at comprehensive schools achieving 3As or more at A-level has risen from 4.2% to 8.2%, while the proportion at independent schools has risen from 15.1% to 32.3% (source DfE).
  5. £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.

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