Research published today (22 December) gives new evidence of the class divide in higher education, only two weeks after Parliament voted to treble the cap on university tuition fees in England to £9,000 per year.
Statistics published by the Sutton Trust show that pupils from fee-paying independent schools are a staggering 55 times more likely to gain a place at Oxford or Cambridge than pupils who qualified for free meals at school.
Free school meals are awarded to pupils whose parents or guardians receive certain welfare benefits. These statistics are therefore often used to measure the progress of the poorest people through the education system.
At top universities in general, independent pupils are 22 times more likely to have a place than those who had free school meals. And they are six times as likely to gain a place than those state school pupils who did not receive free meals.
The Sutton Trust examined the 25 most academically selective universities in England, at which only two per cent of the student intake was made up of people who received free school meals.
This compares with 72.2 per cent made up of other state school pupils, and 25.8 per cent from fee-paying schools. Well below ten per cent of the UK’s school-age population attend fee-paying schools.
At the most selective universities of all, including Oxford and Cambridge, under one per cent of students received free school meals.
“The government’s assault on education is being done at a time when already just one per cent of students going to Oxbridge qualified for free school meals,” said Sally Hunt of the University and College Union (UCU), “Nick Clegg can claim to be a champion of social mobility all he likes, but the policies he has backed will ensure that social mobility remains a pipe dream for far too many people.”
She insisted that “the public are not stupid” and did not believe the government’s claim that “we’re all in this together”.
Hunt added, “When you slash grants for the poorest children at college, abandon the AimHigher programme that was focused on supporting poor people to apply to university, cut university places and triple the cost of a degree, you send a clear message that university is only for those able to afford it”.
Another Sutton Trust report, published earlier this month, showed that students from comprehensive schools are likely to achieve higher-class degrees at university than independent and grammar school students with similar A-levels and GCSE results.