Elite universities still not admitting poor students

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Many of the UK's elite universities are still not admitting students from disadvantaged backgrounds despite attempts to boost participation, according to new figures. The majority are also failing to meet benchmarks on the recruitment of state school pupils.

Data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (Hesa) showed that less than five per cent of the 2008/09 intake of 23 UK universities was made up of pupils from 'low participation' - or disadvantaged - neighbourhoods.

This included seven universities belonging to the Russell Group, which represents 20 leading research institutions across the UK, including Oxford and Cambridge.

Just 2.7 per cent of Oxford's full-time first degree entrants in 2008/09 were from disadvantaged areas - around 75 students out of at total intake of 2,875.

At Cambridge, 3.7 per cent of the intake came from disadvantaged neighbourhoods - around 105 students out of about 2,930.

Bristol, Imperial College, King's College London, the London School of Economics and University College London all took less than 5 per cent of their intake from low participation neighbourhoods, the statistics showed.

The Government has been trying to boost the numbers of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds going into higher education, and to encourage those who are predicted to get top grades to think about applying to top universities.

Many universities now offer summer schools and courses, and take into account background when making offers.

The research also showed that the majority of Russell Group universities were failing to meet Hesa-set 'benchmarks' on admitting state-educated pupils.

More state pupils went to Cambridge than Oxford, at 59.3 per cent and 54.7 per cent respectively, but both fell far short of their benchmarks of 69.8 per cent for Cambridge and 69.7 per cent for Oxford.

A Cambridge spokeswoman said: "The university welcomes the way in which this year's performance indicators reflect its efforts on widening participation, with state sector admissions reaching a high point of 59.3 per cent, up more than 2 percentage-points on the previous year's figure.

"The university makes great efforts to ensure that bright students from all backgrounds are admitted to Cambridge, and we are committed to maintaining those efforts in the future.

An Oxford spokeswoman said: "The numbers vary year on year, but Oxford is consistent in wanting to attract the best candidates from all backgrounds and all geographic areas, and we work hard to do that.

"In the last year the university spent more than £2.8 million on outreach activities designed to encourage the best candidates to apply, whatever their background.

"Our final admissions decisions are based on academic ability and potential alone, and we do not believe in setting admissions quotas of any kind."

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