Top Universities becoming “Exclusive as ever”


Independent Think Tank Hit Out at Russel Group

A top director at an independent think tank has accused leading universities as being “exclusive as ever.” Director of Higher Education Policy Institute, Bahram Bekhradhia said that most students from disadvantage backgrounds go to “less prestigious places.”


Any university wanting to charge students tuition fees of £9,000 have a confirmed agreement with the Office of Fair Access (OFA). Within this agreements institutions agreed to “improve access and student success, including retention, attainment and employability.”


Les Ebdon, Director for the Office of Fair Access, said, “Progress is being made, and that’s very much welcome, but it also does show there’s still a long way to go.”


But Mr Bekhradhia said elite universities should follow the example of universities in the United States where students “represent the wider society.”


“In the USA the top universities explicitly engage in social engineering and are clear that they set to represent wider society as far as possible in their student population, while maintaining high academic standards. In the UK, universities avoided anything that could be seen as ‘social engineering.’ The university you attended makes a difference to your life chances. Institutions at the top are highly academically selective in the students they take, and performance in school is closely linked to background. Posh students go to posh universities because they do better at school and less posh students to less posh universities because they do less well at school. The hierarchy and its causes are well-known to students when making their choice of university”


Wendy Piatt, Director General of the Russell Group of universities; a list of elite higher education intuitions which include both University of Oxford and the University of Cambridge, rejected the claims.


“We dispute some of Bahram Bekhradnia’s analysis and conclusions. The proportion of students from state schools has actually increased at Russell Group universities since 1997. We do not agree that the US is a model example.  Both leading public and elite private universities in the US are actually less representative than ours, and the gap between professional and working class children at US elite universities is twice that in the UK.

Our universities want to give places to students with the qualifications, potential and determination to succeed, irrespective of their background. That’s why we are pumping millions more into outreach programmes. However the root causes of under representation, as Mr Bekhradnia acknowledges, are that too few students from disadvantaged backgrounds are achieving good enough grades in the right subjects.”


A statement from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said, “Universities know their students best. Each has its own mission and priorities. It is right that they should tailor their approach to suit their own particular circumstances and those of their students within the national guidelines.” 


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