Warwick University letting down poorer students

Warwick University is still made up largely of students from white, well-off middle class families, according to new research. Data from market analysts Caci shows that children from the richest 2 per cent of all households are over four and a half times more likely to study at high-ranking universities such as Bristol and Warwick than children from average neighbourhoods.

The report goes on to say that children from the most affluent 25 per cent of households account for over half of the students at Warwick. This top 25 per cent is defined as families owning two cars and a home with four or more bedrooms. By contrast, children from the poorest 25 per cent of households, typically living in terrace homes or flats, make up less than 6.3 per cent of the student population of Russell Group universities.

The University Press Officer, Peter Dunn, told the Boar that the university gets “around 17 per cent of our applicants from the lowest 2 economic groupings.” He went on to say that “getting more people to aspire to even apply to a University is the key factor.”

According to data published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency, around 76 per cent of UK full-time first degree entrants at Warwick from 2004 to 2006 went to state schools. This compares with around 57 per cent for Cambridge and 53 per cent for Oxford. In Bristol, which according to the Caci research has a similar profile to Warwick, this figure was around 64 per cent.

Mo Surve, Students’ Union Education Officer, told the Boar that the fact that 55 per cent of UK students at Warwick came from the most affluent backgrounds was “slightly worrying and really demonstrates the need for the university to work on widening participation.”

The findings come as a blow both to the Labour government and to universities, who have been trying to attract a wider demographic of students. Attempts to increase the proportion of university students from low-income families and ethnic minorities have been at the heart of Labour’s higher education policies. They are central to the government’s target to have 50 per cent of young people in university by 2010.

Like many other universities, Warwick has a number of initiatives to attract students from less-represented areas. Warwick Inspire takes current students into local schools to tell children what university is like. Warwick Welcome Service is also active in the Midlands to encourage new prospective students.

He went on to say that both the University and the SU did a lot on widening participation but that many students were unaware of what was being done, as the Boar’s survey shows. The Students’ Union is running a pilot project called Warwick Inspire whereby some Warwick students will tour comprehensive schools in the West Midlands area and talk about their university experience. The Union hopes that “these sessions will provide a ‘human’ dimension to the opportunities associated with higher education.”

Warwick Students’ Union will also be hosting the second National Mind Games Competition. This event will involve 250 gifted Key Stage 3 students from Nottingham, Manchester, Birmingham and London taking part in a range of competitions and workshops associated with creativity, communication, critical thinking skills, problem solving and raising self-esteem.

Surve said that both projects “are closely linked to the Union’s strategic aims to ‘support the University’s widening participation agenda to ensure that barriers to attending university are overcome’ and ‘increase the union’s work with sixth forms and local colleges.'”

The university also runs several widening participation programmes such as GOAL, which provides support for 15-18 year olds, and the Aim Higher summer school, where selected Year 11 students are given a taste of university or college life for one week to help them decide whether to apply to do a degree and if so which subjects to study.

Surve added that “the university is working on the widening participation agenda but students should push the university to continue working on initiatives to attract more students from under-represented backgrounds.”

He also said he was against making lower offers to some students as “all students have to meet a certain standard in order to be able to cope with studying at Warwick.” He said that the university “is right to focus on finding talent in schools which come under widening participation and providing support for these students so they have an equal chance of getting into institutions such as Warwick.”

The results from Caci’s research show that there are also cultural influences which affect how likely students are to attend universities such as Warwick. The data shows children from home-owning Asian families of Indian origin are almost two and a half times more likely to go to university than the average British child and more than one and a half times more likely to go to a prestigious university.

Children from postcodes that are home to the highest proportion of Asians of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin are more than twice as likely to go to university than the average British child.

These homes are relatively poor, with an average household income of £25,800, but going to university is far more likely than in white, working-class families with the same income.

The Liberal Democrat universities spokesman, Stephen Williams, said, “This evidence makes a mockery of the government’s supposed commitment to social mobility. After over a decade of a Labour government, higher education is still dominated by the better-off.”

A spokeswoman from the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills said that “over 50 per cent of young people from every social class and every region say they want to go to university, and the number of young people from poorer backgrounds entering university rose by over 8 per cent in 2008.”

Last week the House of Commons public accounts committee published a report blaming top universities for failing to increase the proportion of students from the poorest backgrounds. The report added, “Russell group universities generally perform significantly below their performance benchmarks, and perform poorly compared with other types of university.”


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