Russell Group universities continue to make progress in widening participation

05 June 2008

In response to the publication of the higher education performance indicators for 2006-07, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director General of The Russell Group, said:

“A higher percentage of young people from ‘non-traditional’ backgrounds are entering Russell Group universities as a whole. Russell Group universities on average have increased their percentage of entrants from state-schools twice as much as the sector. 

“The figures released today show that average Russell Group performance for 2006-07 has improved across key indicators relating to widening participation. Roughly three quarters of young, full-time first degree entrants to Russell Group universities are from state schools or colleges. However, we consider the benchmarks used here to be unhelpful and inaccurate for a variety of reasons.

“Russell Group universities are committed to ensuring that the brightest candidates from all backgrounds are given the opportunity to flourish on our courses. So we have undertaken a raft of initiatives to go further in tackling the root cause of the problem of the under-representation of students from lower social groups at Russell Group institutions - the fact that they do not apply because of low aspirations, lack of advice and guidance and most importantly, under-achievement at school. These are complex problems which our universities alone cannot solve. But we are doing everything we can to help raise attainment and aspirations by working closely with local schools, colleges and community organisations, organising summer schools, providing access courses and by dramatically increasing the amount of money committed to outreach and widening participation.

“We are particularly concerned by a number of recent reports that suggest pupils are not given enough information, advice and guidance about Russell Group universities. So we have now also decided to hold special conferences to inform teachers and advisors about all aspects of applying to Russell Group universities. It is important to ensure that students make informed choices about applying to the universities which are best for them. Quite simply, we cannot consider students who do not apply.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The annual Performance Indicators (PIs) are collated and published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency. This year’s figures are based on the 2006/07 entrants. They are available here: http://www.hesa.ac.uk/pi/.
    The widening participation performance indicators provide broad measures of increased participation by underrepresented groups in higher education. They are not targets, nor were they intended to be. HEFCE’s first report on these indicators notes: “the success of an institution’s access policies cannot be gauged by looking at the ‘access’ indicators alone … Institutions need to be able to identify entrants with the potential to benefit from higher education” http://www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/1999/99_11.doc
  2. In terms of state school intake, from 2005-06, Russell Group universities on average have increased their percentage of entrants from state-schools twice as much as the sector as a whole. When adjusted for location, English Russell Group universities increased their proportion four times more than the rest of English HEIs on average.
  • The London School of Economics has increased the percentage of students from state schools by 6.5%
  • University College London by 4.2%
  • University of Edinburgh by 2.5%
  • The Universities of Cardiff, Glasgow, Liverpool, Queen’s Belfast, Sheffield and Southampton all exceeded their benchmarks in this area.
  1. The majority of Russell Group universities have made progress in increasing their proportion of students from poorer backgrounds.
  • The University of Birmingham has increased their proportion of students from lower socio-economic backgrounds by over four times more than sector-wide increase
  • UCL has increased its proportion by almost three times more
  • University of Liverpool and Imperial College London by twice as much
  • Queen’s University Belfast also exceeded their benchmark in this area.
    The Russell Group have welcomed the 2008 UCAS figures which confirmed a 7.2% increase in young applicants from lower socio-economic backgrounds across the UK.
  1. Since the inception of performance indicators, Russell Group universities have continued to improve against their benchmarks in terms of intake from lower participation neighbourhoods. As this is the first year of the new method for calculating entrants from low participation neighbourhood, it is not possible to track improvement from last year. However, the Universities of Liverpool, Manchester and Sheffield all exceeded their benchmarks.
  2. Three key factors which account for the relatively low proportion of students from ‘non-traditional backgrounds' at Russell Group universities are not factored in to the benchmark figures.
  • The use of UCAS tariff points inflates the quantity of potentially qualified applicants as these pupils may not have the qualifications required to enter their chosen course
  • The benchmarks do not take into account whether students have the necessary subject combination for particular areas of study
  • The number of applications from ‘non-traditional’ pupils is not taken into account. Lack of applications from such groups is one the main difficulties Russell Group universities face in widening participation.
  1. Improving academic achievement remains the main driver for widening participation in higher education, but this is complex problem that affects children from very early ages. A stubborn correlation exists between social class and attainment and this is embedded from as young as 22 months.
  2. Russell Group universities run a variety of access schemes to encourage students from under-represented backgrounds to consider higher education. For example, the PARTNERS programme at the University of Newcastle began in 1999 as a programme for state schools and colleges in Tyneside and Northumberland, to increase the aspirations of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, providing a supported entry route into university. Students in year 11 and 12 at a number of regional schools are invited to take part in the University of Sheffield’s Professions Progression Partnerships Scheme.
  3. In 2006-07, Russell Group universities spent well over £20 million of additional fee income (AFI) on support for low income students – a greater share of AFI than the sector as a whole and nearly £500,000 more than the sector average per institution. This is in addition to the very large sums already committed to outreach from existing budgets. The University of Oxford, for example, spends over £1.8 million on outreach activities, and the University of Cambridge spends some £3 million on activities aimed at widening participation and access.

Policy area

Related case studies