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Russell Group outreach programme 'flounders'.

Russell Group outreach programme 'flounders'.

ussell Group university outreach programmes appear to have floundered as half admitted fewer state school students than the previous year.

Durham, Exeter, Edinburgh, Warwick and Birmingham universities are among those where the proportion of state educated pupils has fallen, according to data published by Higher Education Statistical Agency (Hesa).

Last year Russell Group universities spent £254 million on “outreach” activities, aimed at encouraging more students from disadvantaged background to apply, with a further £270 million due to be spent in the year ahead.

Initiatives include bursaries, extra tutoring and support, and giving lower offers to those coming from state schools. Professor John Jerrim, an expert in social statistics at University College London’s Institute of Education, said the figures show that “very little progress is actually being made” despite millions being invested by Russell Group universities into outreach schemes.

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“Universities are spending a lot of money on outreach,” he said. “But a lot of it isn’t evaluated so they don’t know if it’s working or not. They might be spending a lot of money on stuff that isn’t working.”

For the second year running, Oxford admitted the lowest proportion of state school students 

Prof Jerrim said that some of the top universities can “hide” from the issue by saying: “We are just taking the best people with the strongest qualifications”.

 

He added: “The key thing is for them to start evaluating – to actually work out the stuff they are running and see if it’s working. At the moment frankly they don’t have a clue.”

For the second year running, Oxford admitted the lowest proportion of state school students out of all non-specialist universities.

Last year 58.2 per cent of its intake were state educated, which was up from 57.7 per cent the year before. Meanwhile Cambridge admitted more state school students last year (63.4 per cent) compared to the year before (63.5 per cent).

Chris Millward, director for fair access and participation at the Office for Students, said the data shows the “incremental progress” that is being made. He said that the OfS will put pressure on universities to “enhance” their plans on how to admit more students from disadvantaged backgrounds.  

“We want universities to understand how they are performing using sophisticated measures, looking across different characteristics to understand disadvantage in their own context and targeting their activity and investment so that it really works,” he said.

The proportion of state school students admitted to all British universities dropped slightly from 90 per cent in 2016/17 to 89.8 per cent in 2017/18, the data showed.

In 1998/99, the first year that Hesa started collecting the data, 85 per cent of university students were from state schools.

Sarah Stevens, head of policy at the Russell Group, said that where individual universities have seen dips in the number of state school students “they will of course take it seriously and we all want to see further progress”.

She added: “Overall the proportion of state school pupils entering Russell Group universities has remained steady, accounting for around four out of every five students.

“A great deal of effort and investment is going into making our universities more inclusive, including vital outreach work with schools. We’re doing more and more evaluation, to better understand and prioritise the interventions which work best.”

 

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