The government’s social mobility adviser, former Labour minister Alan Milburn is due to submit a report to the government urging universities in England to fund grants to help poorer sixth-formers pursue degree courses. He has been tapped by the coalition to review policies concerning social mobility.
Mr Milburn says poor GCSE and A-level results are the biggest reasons students are unable to get into higher education. He says too much money is already being spent on bursaries and reduced tuition fees instead of targeting money directly at schools to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds stay on in school, achieve the required A-level grades and get into university.
Mr Milburn wants universities to channel their efforts towards intervention at an earlier age by providing a financial incentive for poorer students to continue with education “rather than going into work because that way they stand the best chance of getting into higher education”. This call follows the abolition of the education maintenance allowance in England last year after ministers claimed most of the money was going to students who would have attended sixth form or college anyway, making it a “dead weight”.
When taking in students, Mr Milburn says universities should factor in an applicant’s background, with pupils from disadvantaged families given lower entry offers. He says more effort is needed from the government and universities to ensure students with talent and potential get into higher education.
The social mobility tsar also calls on all Russell Group universities to sponsor a city academy school.
Oxford University, a Russell Group member and one of the most prestigious institutions in the UK, says it is already doing its part to attract a wider range of students from different backgrounds. According to Mike Nicholson, director of undergraduate admissions and outreach at Oxford: “What we’re doing is reaching out to a much broader range of students and making it possible for them to see themselves at Oxford and that they don’t have to be part of a small select group and they’re the only people that Oxford’s meant for.”