Access and inclusion

Having access to leading universities is important for young people because they deserve every opportunity to succeed in life. It is important for our universities because we want the best possible students and for society because we want to make the most of our young talent.

Russell Group universities are committed to ensuring talented and able students from all backgrounds can have access to high-quality higher education. Real progress has been made over the last few years in increasing the number of students from disadvantaged backgrounds at our leading universities. Evidence shows that once students arrive, they flourish; on average, drop-out rates are half that of other universities and graduates on average go on to earn around 10% more over a lifetime than those from other universities.

Access matters so much to Russell Group universities and we are far from complacent or content with progress to date; there is still much further to go in solving the problem.

In 2014-15, more than three-quarters (77%) of young full-time first-degree entrants at Russell Group universities were from state schools and colleges. This figure has increased from 68% in 1997.


Students eligible for free school meals (FSM) are more likely than ever to attend highly-selective institutions. In 2014, FSM-eligible pupils were 39% more likely to enter high tariff institutions compared to 2011.

Looking across all universities, application rates from disadvantaged groups in England are at record levels. In 2004, demand from 18-year-olds in advantaged areas was four times greater than in disadvantaged areas. This had fallen to almost three times greater in 2013. Around a fifth of first degree entrants at Russell Group universities in 2014-15 were from lower socioeconomic groups.[1]

Barriers to university access

Our universities face real difficulties as they work hard to increase access and attract students with the most talent, potential and ability from all backgrounds. The key reason why too few students from disadvantaged backgrounds even apply to our universities is that they are not achieving the right grades in the right subjects at school. There are many examples of good and effective careers advice, but also too many occasions where a young person has received bad advice on what to study and how to fill in a university application. It will take time, commitment, and sustained action to raise pupils’ aspirations, increase attainment and improve the advice and guidance offered. This is an entrenched problem and there is no quick fix.

What Russell Group universities are doing to improve access

Our universities are committed to making sure that talented students from disadvantaged backgrounds are not prevented from attending university if they want to.

‘Opening Doors’ explores the underlying barriers that cause less advantaged students to be under-represented at highly-selective universities and look at how Russell Group universities are helping to overcome these:

Our universities invest a significant amount of time and resources into working with schools and colleges, raising attainment among pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds, and supporting teachers in identifying students who may have the potential to go to university and providing the right advice and guidance to achieve their aims.

Working together, our members launched "Advancing Access", an initiative which provides a variety of free CPD resources and online events for teachers and advisers to help them support students' progression to leading universities.

In 2017-18, the 20 Russell Group universities in England will spend £254 million supporting poorer students with bursaries and scholarships, and reaching out to pupils, teachers and parents across the country - with further investments made by our universities in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Our universities have developed ‘alternative’ routes for students who might not otherwise meet the standard entry requirements. For example, in the Warwick 2+2 Degree Pathway, Social Studies and Health and Social Policy courses involve students who left school at 16, never thinking they would ever attend university. But, by spending two years studying at their local further education college and two years studying at University of Warwick, they can achieve their degree.



 [1] HESA Performance Indicators 2014/15

Opening doors: Understanding and overcoming the barriers to university access

This two-part report explores the underlying barriers that mean less advantaged students are under-represented at highly-selective universities and looks at how Russell Group universities are helping to overcome these.

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