State school pupils do not apply to top universities

By Liz Stephens

Thousands of state school pupils are failing to apply to the most selective universities despite having the necessary grades.

A report by the Sutton Trust and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has found that pupils from the top performing independent schools made twice as many applications to leading research universities as their state school peers.

Meanwhile application rates from Further Education (FE) colleges were less than half of those from other types of schools with similar average exam results.

If the application rates for state school and independent school pupils with comparable ‘academic’ A level results were the same, an extra 4,500 extra state school pupils could be attending the top universities.

Chairman of the Sutton Trust, Sir Peter Lampl said: “Many highly able pupils from non-privileged backgrounds wrongly perceive the most prestigious universities as ‘not for the likes of us’, and often lack the support and guidance to overcome this misconception.”

“As well as underlining the continued need for outreach activities like summer schools, with A Level results being published next week, this timely research provides yet another compelling reason to reform the university application system.

“Students should be able to apply to higher education on the basis of their actual results rather than predicted grades, which can be inaccurate.

“This simple step towards post qualification applications would give many non-privileged students the confidence to aim that little bit higher.”

The trust also found that young people with the right grades were almost equally likely to get an offer from the most academically demanding universities no matter what type of school they attended.

However, while one third of applicants from the lowest attaining comprehensive schools received offers, only one fifth of those from FE colleges with similar levels of attainment received offers.

NUS president Wes Streeting said: “We agree with the Sutton Trust that many of our more ‘prestigious’ universities need to do much more outreach work with state school pupils.

“It is not good enough for the Russell Group to claim that schools should improve their own advice and guidance. The whole sector has a shared responsibility to address this problem.

“We also welcome the Sutton Trust’s recommendation that the university application system should be reformed.”

Post qualification applications would enable someone’s actual achievements to be taken into account, rather than one teacher’s predications.

Recent research by the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) said that students from state schools outperformed at university those who went to independent schools and achieved the same A-level grades.