Top universities remain elusive for poorer youngsters

The most sought-after universities are failing to widen intake, leaving talented youngsters from poor backgrounds at a disadvantage, according to a leading education agency.

The agency in charge of widening access to higher education has said young people from poorer backgrounds are still struggling to get into top universities, the BBC has reported.

The Office for Fair Access (Offa) said there has been no significant change since the mid-1990s and that the wealthiest 20% of youngsters are seven times more likely than the most disadvantaged 40% to get places at England’s most selective universities.

The report from Offa considers how to widen access to the top universities.

“Right at the heart of the matter is the need to ensure that those young people with the potential to succeed in a research-intensive university, but who do not currently choose to apply, are identified as early as possible,” said Sir Martin Harris, director of Offa.

The report identifies a series of reasons for the underachievement of talented youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds, including the greater risk of making bad decisions over GCSE choices and the lesser chance of applying to the top universities.

Oxford University, responding to the Offa report, said it spends £3m a year on outreach projects and a further £6m on bursaries.

But it adds that independent school pupils are over-represented in the top grades and account for almost one-third of pupils achieving three grade As at A-level.

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