June 21, 2013, by Zoë Goodwin

‘Top universities have become less representative’…well ours hasn’t

There has been a lot of media attention recently regarding reports which claim that the UK’s top universities have become less socially representative. I started seeing this headline all over the place and it stirred my interest. So I decided to do a bit of digging.

I came across one article which provided the following report as a means of support for this claim. I was left feeling a little dubious. I read that the ‘Higher Education: The fair access challenge’ has shown that the proportion of students from state schools who started a full-time course in one of the top 24 Russell Group Universities fell slightly between 2002-3 and 2011-12.

I questioned – how can this measure of ‘going to a state school’ imply that these students are less advantaged?

However I soon became aware of data showing that, in terms of attainment and progression to top universities, state schools in the most advantaged areas are actually closer to independent schools than to state schools in the least advantaged areas. However, there are various measures of disadvantage, and collectively they do show that progress at the top universities has been at best slow.

So after reading all this, I wanted to know how The University of Nottingham fitted in, so with a little further investigation I came across this statement: ‘The University of Nottingham is the top performer’. Good. And then I found the stats – 24.6% of UK students entering the University in September 2012 were from low-income backgrounds, up from 17% in 2004. Brilliant.

So what is The University of Nottingham doing I asked?

Dr Penelope Griffin, Head of Widening Participation is responsible for the success at Nottingham and has devoted much of her career to increasing access to higher education for people from less advantaged backgrounds.

She explained to me what contributes to the University’s success: “There are actually three elements – a flexible admissions policy, an easy to access financial package and an intensive outreach programme.”

The University’s outreach programmes includes the successful implementation of Nottingham Potential which saw the opening of the first Nottingham Potential Learning Centre in Broxtowe in partnership with IntoUniversity and more recently a second learning centre in St.Anns.

These learning centres aim to support many young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds in reaching their academic potential. They represent the importance of starting at an early stage. Nottingham Potential works with children beginning from as young as Year two (age seven) and supports their transition to secondary school and beyond by providing a pathway that helps to raise attainment and aspirations.

Posted in Students