Russell Group Universities failing students from poor backgrounds?

Earlier this year, MP for Waveney Peter Aldous asked a question in the House of Commons:

How many pupils entitled to Free School Meals went to (a) Russell Group Universities and (b) the University of Oxford or Cambridge ins 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013?

In real terms, this means that the average Russell Group universities admit just 64 students a year who had been on Free School Meals, and Oxbridge even fewer. This is a disgraceful set of statistics.

In other news, the Russell Group universities have been criticised for failing those few students from poor backgrounds who do manage to break through. The research was published by CentreForum and condemns the government for focussing too narrowly on Russell Group universities getting these students and not enough on supporting them during and after their studies.

Author of the report Professor Michael Brown said: “In terms of graduation and employment outcomes, students from areas of high disadvantage have a lower success rate than those from more advantaged backgrounds. And despite political focus on access to Russell Group universities, the most selective institutions do not necessarily deliver the best professional graduate outcomes for disadvantaged students either. It is time to raise the game.”

The Russell Group universities reject these claims. Director general Wendy Piatt said: “We reject the findings and the methodology of this report… It fails.. to recognise that those students from more disadvantaged backgrounds are more likely to complete their degree at a Russell Group university than they are at other institutions.” The group reiterate that the Russell Group graduates are more desirable and more likely to earn more than their counterparts.

Brown said that Russell Group universities need to do more to help these students into professional employment.

According to BIS (Department for Business Innovation and Skills) only an average of 20% of young people from FSM backgrounds progressed to university in 2010-11, and in certain areas, such as Southampton (7%) and Thurrock (5%) this figure is even lower.

Helen Robinson