An Oxford university is struggling to meet targets for widening participation, according to the latest set of official statistics – but it’s not the university you might think.
Figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveal that Oxford Brookes University admitted a higher proportion of privately educated undergraduates than most other UK universities, and more than some highly selective institutions such as the London School of Economics.
Oxford Brookes – founded in 1865 and now with 18,000 full and part-time students – also has the widest gap between the number of state-educated students it admits and benchmarks produced by the higher education statisticians that model what an institution’s student body should be like given subjects studied, entry qualifications, age and ethnicity of applicants.
While Hesa’s benchmark predicts that Oxford Brookes might have 91% of its students from state schools, it only recruited 68% from state schools in 2018-19, a gap of 23 percentage points – the highest among mainstream universities.
In comparison, the University of Oxford’s benchmark for state school pupils was 73% but it admitted 61% last year, meaning its gap was just 12 percentage points.
In its latest access and participation plan, Oxford Brookes said: “Whilst we perform well on some of our access milestones, we recognise that we have more to do, particularly in relation to attracting applications from students from low participation neighbourhoods, white disadvantaged students, and students from most BME [black and minority ethnic] backgrounds.”
Oxford Brookes’s gap put it in the company of the University of Exeter, whose 65% state-educated students was well below its benchmark of 81%, and the University of Bristol, with just 67% from state schools and an 80% benchmark.
Other selective Russell Group universities boasted far better records, including the University of Manchester and the University of Glasgow, which recruited more state school pupils than their benchmarks, while the University of Warwick came close to doing so.
But the Hesa figures showed that Russell Group members – including Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick universities – were among the least likely to admit undergraduates from areas with little or no previous participation in higher education.
The national figures showed a slowdown in progress in recruiting and admitting students from low participation regions. Across the UK, 11.4% of young first-time undergraduates were from deprived areas, the same as the previous year. At universities in England the proportion was 11.4%, fractionally higher than the year before, while in Wales it was static at 13.1%.
The Office for Students, the higher education regulator for England, said: “Despite significant efforts and investment over many years this data shows only a modest improvement in the rates of disadvantaged students entering higher education in 2018-19.
“On the other hand, the latest Ucas data, for students who began their courses last autumn, suggests a welcome upturn in progress.”
A spokesperson for Universities UK said that institutions in England had set “ambitious targets” to widen access and improve participation, but that making further progress was challenging.
“We know that more people are applying to university, and the gap between the most advantaged and disadvantaged applicants is at a record low, but there is a shared will in the sector to see gaps narrow further,” UUK said.