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Students from disadvantaged backgrounds less likely to achieve top grades

Students from disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to drop out of university and less likely to achieve top grades, a report by the Office for Students (OfS) has revealed.

The OfS report, which collected five years of data, analysed student intake, dropout rates, degree attainment and progression to further study or employment across different universities has been released.

The new data shows substantial variations in how universities in England admit, retain and award degrees based upon sex, economic background and ethnicity.

While demonstrating some progress, students from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with mental health issues still face gaps in access and achievement gaps with higher tier universities making the least progress.

According to the new dataset those from disadvantaged areas are more likely to drop out: 89.2% of disadvantaged students continue their studies into their second year, compared to 94.2% of the most advantaged students.

There is also a gap in achievement as 74.6 % of students from disadvantaged backgrounds are awarded a first or 2:1 compared to 84.1 % of advantaged students.

Disadvantaged students are less likely to find graduate employment as 68.8 % of students from disadvantaged backgrounds go on to secure higher-level employment or postgraduate study, compared to 74.8 % of students from the most advantaged backgrounds.

89.2% of disadvantaged students continue their studies into their second year, compared to 94.2% of the most advantaged students

While figures showed some improvement in admitting students from disadvantaged backgrounds, elite universities still recruit the fewest from deprived areas, the Financial Times reports.

Imperial College, Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol and University College London had the largest imbalance between students from the most privileged and the most disadvantaged regions.

Overall, 67% of English universities and other higher education providers had gaps in higher education access for young students from the least advantaged areas.

For the first time, data is available about the differences in outcomes for students who declare a mental health condition. The OfS data found that 86.8% of full-time students with a declared mental health condition progress into their second year of study, compared to 90.3% of full-time students with no known disability.

Chris Millward, Director for Fair Access and Participation at the OfS, said: “The dataset is a game changer for the way in which we hold universities to account on access and successful participation. It provides a more transparent picture of equality of opportunity in different universities than ever before.

“Universities will be held to account for their performance, not just by the OfS but by students and the wider public, who are increasingly expecting stronger progress in this area. We expect to use it to ensure that all now make significant improvements during the coming years.”

“We have set ambitious targets to reduce equality gaps during the next five years. Universities now need to focus their attention on the specific areas where they face the biggest challenges.

The OfS data found that 86.8% of full-time students with a declared mental health condition progress into their second year of study, compared to 90.3% of full-time students with no known disability

“While some universities will need to focus on improving access to higher education for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, the data shows that for many universities the real challenge is in ensuring these students can succeed in their studies, and thrive in life after graduation. This data will help them to do that, and to showcase their achievements.”

At nearly half of UK universities, white students were over 20% more likely to be awarded 1st class or 2.1 degrees than black students, the data revealed.

At Canterbury Christ Church University the attainment gap was 41%, while University of Gloucestershire, Sheffield Hallam University and the University of the West of England, all had gaps of 30% or more.

It was also revealed that white students are the least likely to attend higher education as numbers have flatlined, compared to their black, Asian and mixed-race counterparts.

In 2013-14, 1,987 out of every 10,000 white 18-year-olds went into higher education which rose to 2,121 in 2017-18. This is compared to 3,335 out of every 10,000 black 18-year-olds who went into higher education in 2013-14, rising to 4,310 in 2017-18. Asian student numbers were revealed to have risen from 3,220 out of every 10,000 white 18-year-olds going into higher education in 2013-14 to 4,315 in 2017-18.

Chris Skidmore, the Universities Minister, said in a statement: “I want to see the access and participation plans that universities are beginning to produce increase the ways they are supporting under-represented and disadvantaged groups, so that everyone has the opportunity to thrive in higher education and go on to successful careers.”

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