Class is still the defining feature of university education in the United Kingdom.
This is especially true at the “posh” universities. According to a new study reported in the Guardian, eight of the 10 universities with the lowest proportions of working-class students were in the prestigious Russell Group of research-intensive universities.
With just 11.5% of its intake coming from working-class families, Oxford is bottom in this particular table. Cambridge is next, with 12.6%, and Bristol, another member of the Russell Group, comes in third at 14.2%. Just two of the universities in the bottom 10 – Durham and Bath – come from outside the Russell Group (both are members of the 1994 Group).
Of course, the defenders of the current system provide the usual excuses.
Dr Wendy Piatt, director general of the Russell Group, defends her members’ record, insisting that the “underlying cause” of the problem was occurring long before university. Too few students, in short, have the support and encouragement offered by Lucas’s school. “Low aspirations, lack of quality guidance and, most important, under-achievement in school still remain significant barriers to participation and can only be tackled by government, among others,” she says. “We are also concerned by evidence that some teachers may not be encouraging their students to consider Russell Group universities.
“Research shows that pupils from top independent schools make twice as many applications to the most selective universities as their equally well qualified peers from the best comprehensive schools. We can’t offer students places if they don’t apply for them.”
On one hand, she’s right. The question is, are the administrators and scholars at the so-called posh universities doing anything to change the “underlying cause”?