The UK’s top universities have been criticised again for their lack of effort at attracting students from poorer families. Research shows that the proportion of pupils from poor socio economic backgrounds attending Russell Group universities such as Oxford and Cambridge, has not changed in 15 years, despite the government being vocal on these universities’ responsibility to widen access.
The problem stems from the highly academically selective nature of the top universities because performance at school is closely linked to background – poorer students automatically miss out. In comparison, in the USA top universities explicitly seek to be representative of wider society – so-called “social engineering”, which UK universities avoid.
Director General of the Russell Group universities, Dr Wendy Piatt, disputes some of these claims. They claim that the proportion of children from state schools at Russell Group universities has increased since 1997 and do not believe that the US is a model example of how things should be done.
The root cause of the problem is that too few students from poorer backgrounds are achieving the necessary grades. So there is something of blame shifting from universities to the schools that supply them. The most important thing is that all students with the ability to succeed should be identified and get the right opportunities, regardless of their background. Sometimes this can be difficult, especially if there are behavioural or family issues happening.
Bridge Builders mentors have dedicated one-to-one sessions with young boys from low income backgrounds. During these discussions mentors engage with the mentees to identify where they might make progress, whether this be behaviourally, socially or academically. Our mentors often come from similar backgrounds, and have been able to overcome challenges and become successful businesspeople. They can share their experiences and inspire.