Universities agree to take more disadvantaged students
Universities in England have agreed to take more students from disadvantaged homes, fair access watchdog Offa says.
Institutions have also agreed to spend £750m on outreach activities, bursaries and waiving fees for poorer youngsters.
Offa head Prof Les Ebdon said the new agreements with universities from 2016 would make a "lasting difference".
The government wants to double the rates of the most disadvantaged youngsters entering university by 2020.
Last week, the chancellor scrapped maintenance grants for students, converting them into repayable loans for those from families with low incomes.
Some interest groups fear this could have an effect on the number of students from poorer homes choosing to go to university.
Since the tuition fees increase in 2012, universities have had to detail how they intend to broaden access to their courses in the light of these higher fees. These access agreements are then cleared by the Office for Fair Access.
In its report, Offa said:
- 183 universities and colleges had submitted access agreements
- it had worked with 103 institutions to improve their agreements
- following this, 94 institutions made changes to their targets
- 28 had changed their level of predicted spend.
Prof Ebdon said universities and colleges were setting stretching and ambitious targets to attract disadvantaged students and support them through their studies.
"Our work with universities and colleges has really borne fruit over the last decade. There are now greater rates of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in higher education than ever before - but we know that talent is still being lost.
"Too many people who have the talent to excel are not given full opportunity to demonstrate their ability. Eroding the stubborn link between your background as a child and your life chances as an adult is a long-term project.
"But I am confident that this set of agreements can - and will - make a real and lasting difference for many years to come."
According to the report:
- nearly three-quarters of institutions have set targets to help poorer students stay on courses
- a third have adopted targets relating to disabled students
- and two-fifths have set targets around specific ethnic groups.
Jo Johnson, minister for universities and science, said: "Improving access so that more students can go to university is one of government's key higher education priorities.
"Lifting the cap on student numbers this upcoming academic year is a key part of this, and we remain committed to doubling the proportion of people from disadvantaged backgrounds entering higher education by the end of this Parliament, from 2009 levels."
Director general of the Russell Group of leading universities, Dr Wendy Piatt, said: "Young people from the most disadvantaged areas in 2014 were around 40% more likely to enter a leading university than three years ago and more than a third of our students receive a bursary or scholarship.
"In 2016-17 the 20 Russell Group universities in England will be spending £243m from additional fee income alone on scholarships, fee waivers and bursaries - £9m more than in 2015-16."
Sir Peter Lampl, chairman of the Sutton Trust education charity, said this work could "become increasingly important" in the light of the scrapping of maintenance grants for poor students.
"However, it is vital that we do more to evaluate how this money can be most effectively spent and ensure that enough is invested in reaching young people at school or college when they are making vital decisions about their futures."