Higher education enriches lives. It is vital to social mobility and therefore fairness. It helps economic growth – building the knowledge and skills required by young people and businesses to succeed in a competitive world. And it builds confidence and independence of thought, helping young people find their voice in the world’s conversation.
Everyone with the potential to benefit from higher education should have equal opportunity to do so.
Unfortunately, that ideal is very far from being achieved.
At highly selective universities, the gap in participation rates between students from advantaged and disadvantaged backgrounds is stark. Eighteen year olds from the most advantaged areas are ten times1 more likely to study at one of the UK’s most selective universities (including Oxbridge) than those from more disadvantaged areas.
Different levels of academic attainment are a factor.
But each year nearly 2,000 sixth-form students from disadvantaged backgrounds with the required academic capabilities to apply to, and win places at, our leading universities do not reach those institutions.
Many of those students are in the ex-industrial parts of the north of England. What part of the country you live in is now a better predictor of whether you will reach a leading university than your social class or your parents’ income. “You’re more likely to be able to tell a pathway from a postcode”, says Professor Danny Dorling of the University of Oxford.
There is a huge pool of unfulfilled talent and potential in the north of England. We are proud of the start we have made, but there is much more to do.