It comes amid a multi-million pound drive to recruit students from poorer backgrounds – with universities spending a total of £725.2 million on access initiatives in the past academic year alone.
Russell Group universities said that over the past five years, they have almost doubled the their funding for scholarships, fee waivers, bursaries and outreach activities aimed at the most disadvantaged.
But despite the vast funds that have been poured into boosting access in higher education, a report, published on Thursday by the Office for Fair Access (Offa), concluded that: “while more disadvantaged young people are in higher education than ever before, the numbers of those students leaving before completing their studies has risen for the second year in a row.”
John Howson, a visiting professor of education at Oxford Brookes University, said that the figures are “very worrying”, and warned that universities must not treat access as a mere “numbers exercise”. He said that there is a danger with “enticing” disadvantaged students through lower grade offers, if they are not going to provide ongoing support for them once they begin their courses.
The report, titled Outcomes of access agreement monitoring for 2015-16, also shows that a young person’s chances of gaining at least a 2:1 depend significantly on their ethnic background.
Offa director Les Ebdon said it was a “disgrace” that a student’s degree classification should be linked to their ethnicity. “I think it’s an absolute disgrace that the class of degree that you get should depend on your ethnicity,” he told a Buckingham University conference on higher education.
If universities lower their grade offers, do the low grade A-level students drop out because, once at university the course is too difficult for them? Or is it financial? Or the lack of general support? Please tell us your thoughts in comments or via Twitter ~Tamsin
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