There has been an angry response to the government’s admission that only four per cent of young people from the poorest backgrounds go to university, while life expectancy in the richest parts of the country is up to 13 years longer than in the poorest areas.
Ministers have recently emphasised the importance of social mobility, but critics pointed to the statistics as evidence that they had done little to promote social mobility during their thirteen years in power.
The University and College Union (UCU) spoke of the “great university divide” and expressed shock that only four per cent of people who receive free school meals when aged 15 go on to university.
Cabinet minister Harriet Harman said, “The public want an equal society, one where there is not a yawning and growing gap between the bottom and the top”.
But Sally Hunt of the UCU insisted that “the government needs to be setting out what it will be doing to effect real change in this area – not being complacent or self-congratulatory.”
The Union said that the situation would be made worse by the government’s decision to lower the household income threshold below which students are entitled to a partial grant.
Hunt said, “There is a massive divide between rich and poor when it comes to university education,” adding that, “The gap between rich and poor young people attending university has actually increased in the last 15 years”.
The UCU expressed further alarm at fresh statistics showing that the number of students receiving a full grant appears to have plummeted for no discernible reason. They said that the figures were “not consistent” and that full data is “urgently needed” to assess whether students from poorer backgrounds are missing out on financial support.