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December 13, 2012

Record Drop in Students Taking Up University Places (But Not Among the Poorest)

By Spear's

There’s been a record fall of 6 per cent in the number of young people taking up university places this year, according to a report by UCAS – but, surprisingly, there has also been a rise in disadvantaged pupils going to university

There’s been a record fall of 6 per cent in the number of young people taking up university places this year, according to a report by UCAS – but, surprisingly, there has also been a rise in disadvantaged pupils going to university.

The report argued that this the drop is partly because a large number of people went straight to university last year because of rising fees instead of taking gap years and going this year.

You could be forgiven for assuming, as I did initially, that the fall was also accounted for by a drop in the number of young people from poorer backgrounds applying to university, as this demographic may be even more discouraged by the introduction of £9,000 a year fees.

In fact, there’s been a welcome increase: the number of pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds taking up university places reached new highs this year. A disadvantaged 18 year old is between 40 and 60 per cent more likely to apply to university in 2012 compared to 2004.

Read more: Oxford receives £75 million gift to support low-income students

This trend has been most pronounced among the poorest: the entry rates for pupils on school meals increased, while among those who aren’t on free school meals it decreased. Perhaps this could be explained by increased awareness as to how fees are repaid, improved university outreach work or a greater number of bursary schemes and scholarships for disadvantaged pupils.

At the same time, however, none of this means that disadvantaged pupils are now just as likely as their better-off peers to go to university. On the contrary, university entry rates are three to four times higher in advantaged areas that in poorer ones.

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Today, we’ve posted an interview with Michael Moritz, who has funded the largest ever scholarship programme for undergraduate studies in Europe. His £75 million gift will provide funding, and internships, to Oxford students from the poorest backgrounds.

Andrew Selby, who received the Moritz-Heyman scholarship this year, tells Spear’s why the support has been so valuable, and will do so much to encourage students from poorer backgrounds to apply to top universities.

Read more: Why Oxford University couldn’t survive without philanthropy

But despite Moritz’s enormous generosity, his gift won’t be able to address the imbalance on a national level. The scholarship applies only to Oxford students, and even so, not every promising pupil will even be aware of its existence.

Moritz told me that one of the reasons he went public with such a large gift was that ‘we wanted to make a statement in Britain about the way in which philanthropy can improve possibilities for young people.’ He hopes that other philanthropists will step forward where the government has fallen short, and will ensure that poorer pupils aren’t discouraged from applying to university by high fees.

Of course phlianthropy alone can’t be provide the whole solution: many schools aren’t able to support their brightest pupils, and don’t encourage them to apply to top universities (interestingly, Selby mentions how important both his parents’ and his sixth form college’s support has been.) The government should be investing much more in its education system, from primary school to univeristy. It is, however, a big step in the right direction.
Read more by Sophie McBain

Read more on philanthropy >

Read more on education

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