Universities like Cambridge are less likely to accept students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, a report has foundllee_wu

A study by the Universities UK Social Mobility Advisory Group has urged universities to combat the challenges facing students from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The report found that these students are less likely to go to university, “and when they do they tend not to do as well as their more privileged peers”.

18-year-olds from the most advantaged backgrounds are as much as six times more likely to attend highly selective institutions like Cambridge than those from disadvantaged backgrounds, and were more than twice as likely to enter university at all.

The report also cited an “unexplained difference” of 15 per cent between the proportion of white graduates who gain a First or upper-second class degree and graduates from black and minority ethnic backgrounds.

It proposes that “there should be a particular focus on access for white working-class men”, though acknowledged that there is “an issue of a similar magnitude with disadvantaged white girls and mixed race boys”.

The study identified socio-economic disadvantage as the most “persistent and far-reaching impact” on university access and degree outcomes.

In particular, the report recommended that universities make “greater use of contextual data to inform offer-making”, and suggested that allowing students to overcome the effects of disadvantage and poor schooling “may also require wider use of contextual admissions processes in which universities identify an applicant’s potential as well as their prior attainment in determining admissions”.

The study is the final report of the action group, set up in October 2015 at the request of the Minister of State for Universities and Science Jo Johnson.

Johnson said: “We are seeing record numbers of disadvantaged young people going to university and benefiting from the real opportunities that our world-class universities can offer”, but acknowledged “there is still more to do”.

Johnson stated that the government is “legislating for a new transparency duty which will place a clear requirement on all universities to release more information about their admissions process”, and plans to use incentives to persuade institutions to promote social mobility.

The University of Cambridge does not currently lower its offers to disadvantaged students. Its website reveals that geodemographic data, school/college data and data on individual circumstances are collected as part of the application process, but states that University admissions do not “use contextual data to systematically make conditional offers at lower grades, or to make allowances for a poor academic record”.

Instead, the information is “simply intended to provide academic assessors with the fullest possible picture of an applicant, and the context in which their achievements occurred”.

A University spokesperson has said: “We welcome the report’s recommendations and their emphasis on the need for Government, universities, schools, students and the charitable sector to work in an even more collaborative way.

They added: “We collaborate in many different ways with schools and other universities across the UK with the aim of widening participation in higher education. We are always open to exploring new ways to strengthen these relationships and we welcome the report’s recommendations in this area.”